Utah Jazz fans had waited nearly a month to hear the words. 

“Number 45… from Louisville… Donovan Mitchell.”

After missing the past two and a half weeks with severe concussion symptoms, Mitchell made his triumphant return to the court. The recently named all-star showed no signs of rust as Utah took down visiting Brooklyn 125-102 on Friday night.

“To be honest, I was making the joke before the game like I didn’t give a damn if the ball went in or out. … I was just happy just to be out there running around.” Mitchell said postgame.

Here are five things to know following the win:

1.) Donovan Mitchell, The Super Hero
After two and a half weeks off, most of which came without the ability to train or practice, there were some questions about how Mitchell would look in his return. 

It took all of two minutes and 13 seconds to get the answer. Utah jumped out to a 10-0 lead and never looked back, thanks largely to Mitchell. 

He opened the game with a no-look pass to Royce O’Neale for an easy and-one. He followed that up with a pair of free throws and a deep three-pointer before finding Udoka Azubuike for a layup with another no-look pass. 

Just over two minutes into the game, Mitchell had five points and two assists, showing that his absence wasn’t hampered his shooting and playmaking ability. 

“We have a lot of special guys in our league, but there are a few special guys that even separate from that group of just being special and he’s one of those people,” Kyrie Irving said of Mitchell.

In just 22 minutes of action — not because of a minutes restriction — Mitchell finished with a team-high 27 points, adding six assists, three rebounds, and a +21 rating. He was hyper-efficient on the night, shooting 8-of-10 from the floor, 6-for-7 from three-point territory, and a perfect 5-for-5 from the free throw line.

It’s clear the Jazz missed his ability to penetrate and get to the rim, as it constantly opened up the floor for Utah’s shooters to take advantage.

“He looked really good,” head coach Alex Jensen said of Mitchell. “He was running, defending, passing. … He looked really good out there.”

2.) Udoka Azubuike Impresses With Double-Double
When it was announced pregame that Hassan Whiteside was available to play after dealing with a low back strain, many assumed that the big man would get the start with Rudy Gobert still out. 

Instead, it was a different big man in the starting lineup. 

With Whiteside nowhere near 100% while still recovering from a severe case of COVID-19 and the back strain, Jensen thought it would be best to have him come off the bench and insert Azubuike into the starting lineup. 

Azubuike didn’t disappoint, finishing with the best game of his young career. He recorded the first double-double of his career with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and a +23 rating. It was an impressive performance as he showed improved skill around the hoop on both ends of the court. 

But according to Mitchell, the points and rebounds weren’t even the most impressive parts of Azubuike’s game — it was his hustle. While there were countless moments with the big man out-sprinting his foe down the court to establish position, Mitchell said his best play was when he hustled to close out on a three-point shooter in the corner. 

With Gobert expected back soon and Whiteside on the road to full recovery, it’s unknown where Azubuike’s minutes go from here — but if nothing else, this small glimpse shows that the future is bright. 

3.) Quin Snyder Still Part Of The Game Plan
One of the most overlooked aspects of Utah’s two-game winning streak is that it’s come without arguably its most dangerous weapon. 

Head coach Quin Snyder has been out for the past three games due to health and safety protocols, which means that lead assistant head coach Alex Jensen has taken over the reins. 

As the Jazz have turned things around from a rough month of January, many fans believe that Jensen is the primary reason. Whether it be from his starting lineups, rotation, or in-game adjustments, some believe he deserves all the credit. 

Not taking anything away from Jensen — he’s been sensational when thrown into a rough situation — but even he says that the turnaround has been a collaborative effort. According to Jensen, Snyder is still very much a part of the game plan and as active and involved as possible while absent. 

“The process is actually the same,” Jensen said. “We met with coach on Zoom yesterday and today, and there’s been a lot of moving parts with our lineup. … So it’s no different other than obviously he’s not here.”

4.) Bojan Bogdanovic And Mike Conley Thrive
With Mitchell out for the past eight games, a lot of the offensive pressure and leadership fell onto the shoulders of Bogdanovic and Conley. Not to say that they aren’t capable of carrying such a heavy load, but the absence of Mitchell takes away one of their key teammates who helps make the offensive function at such high efficiency. 

So when he returned to the court on Friday, it came as no surprise that Bogdanovic and Conley thrived.

Bogdanovic was back to his usual self, thriving in his role as a secondary scorer. He finished with a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 8-of-14 from the floor and 3-for-7 from beyond the arc. But the most impressive part of his performance was four assists, showing off a part of his game that isn’t seen as much.

Conley also enjoyed having his running mate back.

With Mitchell commanding so much of Brooklyn’s attention, Conley found open lanes everywhere and was able to get to the rim at will. He finished with 14 points, three rebounds, and three assists.

“He takes pressure off the other guys, especially Mike,” Jensen said of Mitchell’s presence. “There’s so much focus on him that he frees up other guys offensively. He’s Donovan Mitchell. … He makes everything a lot easier for everybody.”

5.) Different Energy, Different Vibe
It’s been no secret that the Jazz had a rough month of January. 

A team that entered the month closer to the No. 1 seed than the No. 4 seed, Utah stumbled to a 4-12 record, including a five-game losing streak to end the month. 

But once the calendar switched to February, the Jazz started winning again. Victories over Denver and Brooklyn, the latter aided by Mitchell’s return, have given Utah new life. There’s a different energy and vibe around this team that you can see, but you can also feel.

The Jazz are paying much looser and appear to be having fun again. While winning will cure many things, it’s the matter in which the Jazz are winning is what’s fueling them. There’s laughter and smiling, there are celebrations on the bench again. 

It’s unknown if this energy will continue for the rest of the season, but what’s clear is that Utah is rejuvenated as its star players are making their returns to the court. 

“That’s the mark of a team that’s composed, and you understand you’ve got to go through adversity to get to the top,” Mitchell said. “It’s having fun with the game, even in our losses. I can’t say our losses were fun, but you look at the effort. … The energy is just different.”


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