Kings Never Challenge Jazz in Easy 98 – 91 Victory

March 3rd, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

The Sacramento Kings’s defense couldn’t stop Donovan Mitchell’s combination of physical strength and speed, as the Rookie of the Year candidate made scoring 27 look easy in the Utah’s Jazz’s road victory. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Story of the Game

This was a contest the Utah Jazz had to win and, if they were honest and wouldn’t be fined for it, the Sacramento Kings would admit they wanted to lose. So Utah’s cruise to a 98 – 91 victory on the tail end of a back-to-back is no surprise.

This was an easy game for the Jazz both competitively and in terms of energy, which the players likely appreciate after winning a testy game with Minnesota yesterday in Salt Lake. Neither team mustered much energy for most of the night, though Utah’s superior talent and training was obvious. It never felt the Jazz were in a position to lose this game; moreover, it never felt the Kings might push things to a position where the Jazz had any realistic chance to lose.

It’s not that Sacramento played poorly exactly. Their young talent gave Kings fans something to cheer for, with De’Aaron Fox scoring 17 on some greased lightning plays, Bogdon Bogdonovic scoring 15 with his NBA-ready game, and even Skal Labissiere having perhaps his best NBA game with 12 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, and more energy than anyone else in the building. In the few moments the Kings got the game’s tempo up, such as to close the second and third quarters, they went on mini runs of 16 to seven and later seven to zero.

Even so Sacramento was no match for Utah’s defense even on cruise control. The Kings shot 38 percent overall and only 30 percent from three, never managing to punish Utah for its own mediocre offensive night: 42 percent shooting from the field, 34 percent from three, and an ugly 19 of 29 (66 percent) from the free throw line.

The Jazz nursed a lead between about seven and 15 for most of the evening, and head coach Quin Snyder must have preferred for them to put the pedal down midway through this game to end the night early. But second gear was easily enough for the Jazz to cruise to a seven-point win, a margin that undersells how easy it was to get this victory.

 

Stars of the Game

Superstars: Donovan Mitchell (27 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 threes, 10 free throws) and Rudy Gobert (16 points, 12 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks, 2 assists)

Utah’s star duo played what may be their most complete combined game tonight.

Mitchell displayed all-around offensive excellence, requiring only 15 shots to get his game-high 27 points. He made three of eight threes and a stellar 10 of 10 from the free throw line. Moreover, he facilitated the team with awareness far beyond his years and contributed on the boards as well. He has now shot five or more three throws in six of the last nine games. Once he bumps that up to six or seven attempts a contest, or maybe even more – and he will – he’ll check every box for an elite NBA scorer.

Gobert was perhaps even better than Mitchell when considering his overall game, but the most impressive thing about that is how routine he made it seem. He stuffed the stat sheet and controlled much of the competition on the floor without doing anything that stood out as beyond his normal, consistent impact. That’s the sign of a franchise player.

Not surprisingly, Mitchell and Gobert led the team in both minutes (38 and 36 respectively) and plus-minus (plus-eight and plus-10).

Secondary Star: Derrick Favors (15 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assists)

Favors’s season has been as steady as could be hoped, so much so it’s easy to miss some of the nuances his game has gained with a return to health. He’s running the floor harder than any time in his career, which resulted in two easy finishes in the fast break tonight as he beat his man down the floor. He hit another three on two attempts this game, giving him eight makes on the season. He provides efficient offense, shooting 56 percent while requiring only nine shot attempts a game, while contributing solid defense both as a rim protecting center and a forward chasing out to the three point line. While Favors’s future in Utah is uncertain, it would be interesting to see what might happen if he were allowed to truly settle into the uniquely diverse role he fills on this roster.

Secret Star: Jonus Jerebko (8 points, 6 rebounds, 2 threes)

Jerebko’s cold streak finally ended as he canned two of five attempts from long range. His eight points may not seem like much, but it was nice that Jae Crowder (14 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block) finally got some scoring help on Utah’s bench. The pair provided the only scoring outside Utah’s starters.

Stats of the Game

13 – Utah’s advantage in second chance points, an area they’ve really distinguished themselves with both Gobert and Favors healthy.

12 – Shots missed by Ricky Rubio, more misses than any Jazz player except Mitchell even attempted.

97.6 – Estimated possessions in the ball game. The lethargy helped Utah’s defense keep the clamps on the Kings, but it didn’t make for the most riveting game.

1.55 – Points per shot on Gobert’s and Favors’s combined 20 field goal attempts (31 points total). They’re typically efficient and so when they get enough opportunities, it adds to the pair’s defense to make them a unique problem for any opponent. 

Sundries

  • The Golden 1 Center was dead tonight. The atmosphere was such that it likely played a role in the lackluster energy displayed by both teams for much of the game. It’s been really hard to be a Kings fan for far too long.
  • Ricky Rubio was both the good old Rubio and the perplexing new Rubio this game. His stat line was strong: 10 points, eight rebounds, and team-highs in assists (six) and steals (four). The Jazz would happily take that every night. It’s the 16 shots, of which he only made four, that’s frustrating. It’s not just missing all three of his three point attempts but the two of six finishes at the rim. Tonight the free throw line didn’t even save his efficiency as he missed three of five there. A game like this illustrates Rubio’s potential to shoot his team out of wins. Yet somehow in the 12 games this season where Rubio has taken at least 14 shots, the Jazz have won 10! Is that a fluke? If not, is there anything there that’s sustainable, especially against quality opponents in the playoffs? I’m not sure anyone knows, including the Jazz brain trust.
  • Bogdonovic is a good player, kind of a Klay Thompson-lite. Fox is really fast. Labissiere has some tools and has matured some since entering the league as one of the least ready NBA players of recent memory. But there’s nothing on this Kings roster that suggests this team will escape building from the ground up for many years to come.
  • It’s hard to imagine how LeBron James can stay in Cleveland now that it’s so obvious that team is a professional dumpster fire for any player not perfectly designed to compliment the King. Isaiah Thomas has revitalized the Lakers in short order and Crowder has scored double figures in all eight of his games with the Jazz. James has long been celebrated for his ability to make his teammates better, which makes this season’s illustration of the exact opposite fascinating.
  • Alec Burks earned another DNP-Coach’s Decision tonight. It’s disappointing given that he’s finally healthy and he had such a strong pre-season and start to the regular season, but it’s looking increasingly likely that Burks’s career will move out of Salt Lake perhaps as soon as this summer. Raul Neto added little in his five minutes tonight as well. There’s a six-foot-six hole in the roster right now waiting for Dante Exum to fill it.

The Jazz have now won 14 of their last 16 games. With losses the Timberwolves and Thunder have each fallen to 28 games in the loss column, only two ahead of Utah. The floundering Spurs, finally crumbling under Kawhi Leonard’s perplexing injury and age, just lost as well, falling to 27 losses. Yet the Clippers and Nuggets continue to win at a pace that nearly matches the humming Jazz.

The fight not to be one of two teams left out of the post-season out West is going to be amazing. The Jazz have to keep the pressure on teams ahead of them by notching another home win against the Magic on Monday.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

5 Comments

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    It appears more and more likely that Favors will be re-signed by the Jazz with each game since the trade deadline. The way that he and Rudy are playing together to dominate other front courts makes me pine for the late-last-season version of Gordon Hayward to be on this team. That front court of a healthy Favors, along with Rudy and Gordon Hayward was awesome.

    • AJ says:

      Favors is great. Favors is really really good and would help the Jazz become a top 4 team in the west, but can we contend with Favs as our starting 4?

      Seems like a pretty tough choice to commit, most likely, $15M+ a yr to a guy we often can’t even close the game with cuz contenders go small with guys like Durant, Kawhi, and Lebron At his spot. Am I overthinking this? Has Lindsay/Snyder just figured out a way around this?

      • Clint Johnson says:

        Paul and AJ,

        I still think it’s more likely the team moves in another direction than Favors simply because it makes it easier to run Snyder’s offense. But I don’t believe it’s certain and it all but was a month ago.

        My own position has always been that the best way to truly contend is to find a new formula rather than to try to adopt someone else’s formula. What are the chances the Jazz will become a better four-out offense than the Warriors or Rockets even if they bring in a quality stretch four? I’d rather they develop their own advantage with two bigs and dominate the offensive glass, lock things down defensively, and (they really need to improve here) rely on lots of deep entry passes to guys who have sealed smaller defenders right under the rim. Someone will win a title without playing the Warriors’s style of ball. The question is when and who.

    • gerald headrick says:

      the question that i always try to answer in my mind is whether or not donovan mitchell would have bloomed the way he has on a hayward centric team. the team plays very different sans hayward. they don’t play the same position but both need tons of touches.

      think mitchell can be the go to scorer on a very good team, especially if he can pick up his free throw rate. even after his excellent playoff last season versus the clippers, still had doubt that hayward was a go to scorer. think 30mm was too much to pay a secondary scorer, even though boston was happy doing so.

      • Clint Johnson says:

        Hayward is better than I ever thought he’d be, but Mitchell is another caliber of prospect. I think he’ll be better than Hayward next season at 22. And you’re right, when his free throw rate increases, and I’m confident it will, he has everything needed to score in the mid twenties season after season.

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