Hours after being introduced as CEO and alternative governor of the Utah Jazz, Danny Ainge had to have liked what he saw from his new team.
The former player and architect of the Boston Celtics’ franchise can only hope for a duplicate performance of that win — and for that matter, the past eight games, all victories — when his Jazz take on the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night in Salt Lake City.
Donovan Mitchell played like an MVP in the second half, scoring 19 of his 27 points, while three other teammates scored at least 20 points in a lopsided 124-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in a rematch of the Western Conference semifinals.
Rudy Gobert had another double-double with 20 points and 17 rebounds, Bojan Bogdanovic drained six 3-pointers en route to 20 points, and Jordan Clarkson had 21 points off the bench.
The red-hot Jazz lead the NBA in offensive rating (117.7 per 100) and points scored (115.6 ppg) entering this matchup with the Spurs.
Utah hopes these type of offensive fireworks continue to be commonplace while its top-five defense remains consistent throughout the regular season and postseason.
“We are holding ourselves to a higher standard because we’ve done this in the regular season,” Mitchell said. “We need to be good enough to take that next step.”
The depth of their lineup, which led the NBA in wins in 2020-21, is already paying dividends. Utah brought back its key players and added veterans Rudy Gay and Hassan Whiteside, both of whom are playing valuable roles.
The way the team is clicking on offense is particularly impressive.
“They are a really good half-court team,” Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe said. “But once they get a couple in transition, they are feeling good and it opens up their offense a lot.”
Mitchell’s outside shot wasn’t falling Wednesday night, so he opted to attack the basket time and time again while scoring 13 points in the pivotal third quarter.
Mitchell, who’s averaged 29.1 points and 5.3 assists in this season-best winning streak, said he’s trying to not be predictable while finding a balance between using his explosiveness and the outside game he developed while playing on his injured ankle last season.
Mitchell’s play opened up more shots for his teammates, too.
“It was just unselfishness,” Bogdanovic added. “Double-teaming or blitzing Donovan allows us to play 4-on-3 on the other side. I think that was the biggest part of the game.”
Friday’s game will kick off a four-game trip for the Spurs and is the first of three meetings this season between the two teams. San Antonio has lost four of six, including Wednesday’s 131-115 home loss to Charlotte in which the Spurs allowed Gordon Hayward to go off for 41 points on 15-of-19 shooting.
“Charlotte did a great job of both making threes and driving it into the paint to get even better open threes, and we didn’t respond defensively,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We were pathetic in that regard.”
The Hornets shot 59.3 percent from the field and 52.9 percent from 3-point range, with six players hitting double figures in scoring.
“They competed harder than we did for more of the 48 minutes,” Popovich said. “They were the aggressive team. That’s a tough loss, because I don’t think our execution or our competitiveness was up to snuff. That’s disappointing.”
–Field Level Media