Things weren’t clicking for Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz early in Monday night’s preseason tune-up.
Shots weren’t falling.
Turnovers were piling up.
And Mitchell was … happy with where the game was at.
After showcasing their offensive arsenal on Saturday night, the Utah Jazz went into Monday night’s rematch with the Phoenix Suns with defense on the mind—a mentality that helped them overcome some early struggles and eventually cruise to a 111-92 victory.
“We’re going to have nights like that where we don’t come out strong offensively,” said Mitchell, who had 15 points and six rebounds. “The biggest thing is we have to make sure defense carries us whether we’re having good nights or bad nights.”
| Best plays from our second preseason W #TakeNote pic.twitter.com/xnF9Wl9zxU
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) December 15, 2020
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder had challenged his team to get more defensive in their second exhibition contest with Devin Booker and the Suns.
“That was something we really talked about,” Snyder said. “I wanted to see how we would respond, frankly. It wasn’t something we felt like we’d get in the gym and have one of those really tough practices. It was more of a mental check and guys just understanding that if we’re going to be a really good team, we have to be consistent on both ends of the floor. It showed tonight as far as us defending throughout the game.”
The Jazz needed nearly 7 minutes to score their first points of the game and ended up committing 13 first-half turnovers. But the Jazz defense gave the offense time to find its groove. A 32-6 run over the end of the second quarter and early third propelled Utah to its second win of the preseason.
“As things progressed, we started getting freed up on some early actions and transition-3s, things that are easy for us,” point guard Mike Conley said.
Conley finished the game with 16 points and three assists. Center Rudy Gobert had 11 points and 20 rebounds. Forward Bojan Bogdanovic led the team with 18 points.
“It just shows you what we can do when things start clicking,” Mitchell said. “The third quarter really shows what happens when you combine both and we could see what kind of team we can be.”
Phoenix’s Devin Booker scored a game-high 27 points and new Suns point guard Chris Paul had five points and six assists in his first action of the preseason.
• Wings Royce O’Neale (rest; medical protocol) and Shaq Harrison (right hand fracture) were held out of action again Monday night.
• Former Jazzman Jae Crowder was not in the lineup for the Suns on Monday night, but his old coach expects the tough-minded forward to help Phoenix take a step forward this year.
“They’re a really good team,” Snyder said. “You’ve seen them progress and improve over the course of last year and then, obviously, in the Bubble they were playing as well as any team in the league. They have a group of young guys and then you add Chris [Paul] and Jae, those guys can really make an impact. Both of those guys are great leaders. Having coached Jae, he’s really impactful. He’s a guy on your team that raises everybody’s level. He did that for us. I’m sure he’ll do that in Phoenix.”
• Rookie Udoka Azubuike showed what he could do in Saturday’s preseason opener, blocking two shots and using his size to finish around the rim on an alley-oop and a post-up. Afterward, the 7-footer got some praise from All-Star Rudy Gobert. Azubuike said he is excited to keep learning from Gobert this season.
“Sometimes I try to pick up his mindset,” Azubuike said. “I just talk to him about the stuff I need to work on and how he gets prepared and how he was able to get to where he is. Having a guy like Rudy is huge to learn from him.”
| Dok talked about having Rudy as his vet during today’s @ZionsBank #ShootaroundInterview. pic.twitter.com/OcSiMoRI57
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) December 14, 2020
The Jazz will wrap up their preseason schedule on Thursday night in Los Angeles. The Jazz and Clippers will tip off at 8 p.m. MT.