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Utah Jazz wing Royce O'Neale (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
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Jazz Find Rhythm In Second Half Vs. Knicks To Extend Win Streak

Utah Jazz wing Royce O'Neale (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah –Β After a miserable first half, the Utah Jazz found their rhythm and beat the New York Knicks 108-94.

Royce O’Neale led the Jazz in scoring with a career-high 20 points and was a spark defensively throughout the night.

Donovan Mitchell struggled for the first time during the Jazz now nine-game win streak, connecting on just three of his 15 shots attempts for nine points

But as has been the case for the Jazz during most games over the last three weeks, they were carried by hot three-point shooting. After knocking down just five first-half threes, the Jazz connected on 14 of their 26 attempts to run away from the Knicks.

O’Neale Continues To Flourish For Jazz

Buried behind Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic’s slow play to start the season, then Mitchell’s dominant stretch, and Mike Conley’s MVP level play, the level at which O’Neale has been performing has been overlooked.

The Jazz are the most prolific three-point shooting team in the NBA season, and O’Neale has been the Jazz best three-point shooter at 46 percent from beyond the arc.

O’Neale was rightly criticized in the postseason last year for passing on too many open looks that could have made the difference in their first-round series loss to the Denver Nuggets.

The wing hasn’t been shy about shooting this year, averaging a career-high 4.1 threes per game and knocking them down at an elite rate.

When Quin Snyder was asked what his team got from O’Neale tonight, he had plenty to talk about.

“What didn’t we get?” Snyder responded. “Defensively he matched up on Randle, he guarded Rivers for a spell. On the offensive end especially early in the game when they were shifted off, he was ready to shoot and knocking it down.”

O’Neale had seven of the Jazz first eight points and finished with a team-leading 20 points on 7-12 shooting, including 2-5 from three.

On top of his offensive performance, O’Neale was tasked with defending Knicks forward Julius Randle who has been one of the NBA’s most potent scorers this year.

Randle is averaging 22.7 points per game but was held to just 18 points on 6-16 shooting, largely due to O’Neale’s defense in the post.

Randle repeatedly tried to outmuscle O’Neale down low, which he should be able to do owning a four-inch, 25-pound size advantage over the Jazz wing, but that simply wasn’t the case.

O’Neale would go toe to toe with Randle in the post on the Knicks forward’s initial post up, then would pull the chair to give Randle a little room to shoot, but would recover in time to contest the shot.

It was as impressive of a performance as the Jazz have gotten from O’Neale at any point in his career, and their 13 point deficit at the half could have been twice that if the Jazz wing hadn’t played as well as he did.

O’Neale explained what was working for him after the game.

“Just taking what the defense was giving me,” the Jazz wing said. “Whether I was knocking down open shots or cutting to the basket or finding teammates.”

With his new contract kicking in during the offseason, the Jazz needed O’Neale to continue to outperform his paycheck, and despite a nearly $8 million raise, he’s done that through the first quarter of the season.

Donovan Mitchell’s Bad Night Against Knicks

The Jazz haven’t gotten a truly bad night from Donovan Mitchell since their last loss on January 6. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that game was also against the Knicks when Mitchell scored 18 points on 8-23 shooting, with four assists and four turnovers.

On Tuesday, Mitchell shot just 3-15 for nine points and had two turnovers to his three assists.

The Knicks are a solid defensive team, led by strong rim protection from Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel, but they also have length on the perimeter with Elfrid Peyton and RJ Barrett.

Perhaps more consequential, the Knicks associated head coach is former Jazz assistant Johnnie Bryant who has worked with Mitchell as much as anyone since he entered the league in 2017.

While Mitchell’s poor shooting to open the game was partly responsible for his slow start, the Knicks also did a tremendous job of trapping the guard in the paint when he tried to attack the rim.

Robinson and Noel each stifled Mitchell on dunk attempts, recognized the guard’s knack for attacking the basket, sometimes over aggressively especially when his shot isn’t falling.

“It’s not going to be sunshine and rainbows every day,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s the best part about this is we’re learning, we’re finding new instances every game in how to fight adversity in different ways.”

The Jazz have to be happy to know they can win games going away even when Mitchell never finds his rhythm throughout the night. Early in the season, specifically against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder the Jazz would turn to Mitchell late and hope he had enough magic to squeak out a win, and sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

Against New York, the rest of the Jazz offense stepped up around Mitchell and his struggles didn’t submarine the team.

Mike Conley And Rudy Gobert’s Quiet Brilliance

Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert have reached received a lot of credit his past week due to their impressive plus-minus numbers during the Jazz win streak.

Conley leads the league in plus-minus during the streak at +19.4 per game. Gobert ranks second at +17.9.

The Jazz trailed for most of the first three-quarters of the game and didn’t lead the Knicks in the second half until there were 11 minutes left in the game after a Jordan Clarkson layup.

But despite trailing by as many as 15 points, and 13 at the half, Conley was +13 through the first 37 minutes of the game and Gobert was +14.

From the eye-test alone, neither player had a particularly great game. Conley started 0-5 from the floor during the first half.

Gobert meanwhile repeatedly looked to struggle to finish at the rim, trying to shoot around the Knicks rim protectors rather than finishing over them.

And yet, at night’s end, Conley had 19 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. Gobet had a dominant 18 point and 19 rebound performance.

Even better, both players were +27 during their time on the floor together.

“Me and Rudy have spent a lot of time together watching film,” Conley said. “And getting work in in practice. Extra time before and after practice. Both offensively and defensively we’re just really connected right now.”

The Jazz second unit is good, and they contributed 29 points for the Jazz including some key hustle plays to climb back into the game, but having a 27 point advantage when Conley and Gobert are on the floor in fewer than 32 minutes is a staggering advantage that most other teams can’t compete against.

The Knicks couldn’t keep up tonight, especially in the third quarter, and it earned the Jazz their ninth straight victory.