It’s official — Sunday night in Madison Square Garden clearly meant something extra to Donovan Mitchell.

Returning home for the first time this season, Mitchell was sensational in every facet of the game as Utah began its six-game road trip with a 108-93 victory over the New York Knicks. With the win, the Jazz have a two-game lead over Dallas for the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference playoffs — and are just two games back of the struggling Golden State Warriors for the No. 3 seed.

“It’s a lot of fun. … I got a lot of friends and family here who get to watch me, who know me more of a baseball player than a basketball one,” Mitchell said postgame. “The biggest thing is that we got a win as a group. … We know it’s big to come out east and start right. We stayed locked in for the full 48.”

It was a special night for Mitchell as he had one of his best games of the season, especially when the Jazz needed him most. As he alluded to in his postgame press conference, starting the long road trip with a win was vital for the Jazz, and he made sure that happened. 

He finished with 36 points (career-high in Madison Square Garden) and eight rebounds on 11-of-21 shooting, including a 7-for-12 showing from three-point territory. His final three-pointer was significant as it set the new Jazz single-season record for made three-pointers in a season with 209… and counting. 

With point guard Mike Conley out (right knee injury maintenance), a lot of the playmaking and ball-handling fell on Mitchell’s shoulders, and he responded. He finished with six assists, constantly making the right play that allowed the Jazz to stay within the rhythm of the offense and thrive. 

“I know my passing has improved, but I think it’s creating advantages for us. … That’s been the biggest thing for me,” Mitchell said. “I’m trying to find ways to make the game easier for everybody. … The biggest thing is taking steps in that right direction.”

But if Utah was going to leave the Garden with a win, Mitchell wouldn’t be able to do it alone. Another player would have to step as both a scorer and playmaker — and Jordan Clarkson was that man. 

He continued his excellent play of late, finishing with 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and a +16 rating. 

But what was most impressive was Clarkson’s ability to get into the paint, constantly putting pressure on New York’s top-10 defense. Able to get any shot he wanted, Clarkson was under control the entire time and thrived in the role as a playmaker as much as he did as a scorer. 

Feeling energized from playing in the Mecca, Utah started out hot from beyond the arc as they led 9-7 following three-pointers from Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, and Juancho Hernangomez. But the Knicks, feeding off their home crowd, rallied with a 14-4 run to eventually lead 31-26 after one. 

After playing well in the first quarter, Clarkson continued his hot start as the Jazz flipped the script in the second. The defense tightened up, forcing five turnovers, while Clarkson attacked relentlessly with 10 points in the second. 

Utah led 60-53 at the half. 

The Jazz continued to defend at a high level in the third quarter, holding the Knicks to 20 points as Rudy Gobert’s presence was felt on both ends of the court. After altering many shots at the rim, forcing the Knicks into contested and off-balanced attempts, he was as equally dominant offensively with eight points in the frame. 

Despite leading by 12 heading into the fourth, the Jazz struggled to put the Knicks away as Immanuel Quickly dropped eight quick points to but the deficit to four. However, Mitchell and the Jazz responded with a 15-4 run to end the game, highlighted by a thunderous dunk from Mitchell. 

“Playing against teams that are high-level teams in difficult environments has a way of focusing you. … Even if you’re not successful on the scoreboard, I think there’s usually things that you can take from it,” head coach Quin Snyder said. 

Gobert finished with 14 points (10-of-12 free throw line), nine rebounds, and four blocks as New York had no answer for the big man in the middle. O’Neale finished with 14 points and four rebounds, while Rudy Gay added 13 points and seven rebounds. 

There’s no rest for Utah as they will turn around in less than 24 hours when they face Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night. Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m. MST on NBATV.


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