UTAH JAZZ

Mitchell Opens, Gobert Closes Jazz Win Over Cleveland

Dec 5, 2021, 5:11 PM
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell celebrates against the Cleveland Cavaliers (Photo by Jason Miller/...
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell celebrates against the Cleveland Cavaliers (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz held on to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in a hard-fought afternoon game on Sunday.

The Jazz beat Cleveland 109-108 in one of their best wins of the season, outlasting the feisty young Cavaliers roster who appeared poised for a playoff birth.

Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 35 points while Rudy Gobert’s defense sealed the victory late in Cleveland.

Mitchell Gets Off To Hot Start

After a good-but-not-great start 2021-22, it seems the Jazz’s Mitchell has fully arrived now 23 games into the season.

Over his last three outings, the All-Star guard has scored 30, 34, and 35 points for an average of 33 points per game.

It’s the fifth time the guard has had at least 30 points in three straight games, and one short of his career-best streak.

Mitchell wasted no time finding his scoring touch against the Cavaliers, scoring 15 first-quarter points on 6-8 shooting, including 3-4 from the three-point line while adding three assists.

The guard has also dished out at least five assists in eight straight games, eclipsing his previous career-high of seven games set last season.

After the game, Mitchell described the keys to attack the Cavaliers’ big lineup.

“Getting out in transition, making quick decisions, and making them have to guard you,” the guard said.

Midday games for Western Conference teams traveling East are notoriously difficult and getting off to a hot start against the young and confident Cleveland team was critical, and Mitchell carried a huge load for the Jazz in the first quarter.

The guard wasn’t perfect, as he turned the ball over seven times, setting a new season-high, and he rushed a late layup that gave the Cavaliers a chance to win the game, but in a game where the Jazz needed Mitchell’s raw scoring, his 35 points on just 21 shots was crucial.

Gobert Closes

As good as Mitchell was to open the game offensively, Gobert was equally impressive on the defensive end to seal the win.

Playing without Hassan Whiteside who missed the game due to a glute contusion, Gobert was forced to play the entire fourth quarter to allow the Jazz to have a rim protector to close the game.

The Jazz built a big 15 point lead two minutes into the final frame, but quickly gave it all back on a 15-0 to allow for a 97-97 tie.

Though Gobert had hardly had a quiet game to that point, racking up four points, 15 rebounds, and three blocks against the Cavaliers three seven-footers, he saved his best for last.

As always, Gobert’s best work doesn’t always show up on the box score, but his presence was immense.

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year had two points, five rebounds, and two blocks over the final eight minutes of the game, including a crucial offensive rebound and emphatic left-handed slam over Jarrett Allen to give the Jazz a 109-106 lead which proved to be the game-winning basket.

Even more importantly, Gobert’s defense limited the Cavaliers to 11 points on 5-17 shooting, and just three second-chance points despite giving up four offensive rebounds, including Evan Mobley’s desperation tip on the final play of the game.

“I think that’s what great teams are able to do at the end of the game,” Gobert said. “You’re locked in even more, your physicality goes up, communication should go up, and if you need to get a rebound, go get it.”

Gobert finished with six points, 20 rebounds, five blocks, marking the first time in his career to cross the 20 rebound, five block mark in the same game.

The big man became just the sixth Jazzman to ever have at least 20 rebounds, and five blocks in a game, joining Mark Eaton, Rich Kelley, Joe Meriweather, Otto Moore, and Greg Ostertag on the list.

Gay Plays Well At Small Ball Five

The Jazz would have preferred to have a fully healthy roster against Cleveland, but after escaping with the close victory, they also got the benefit of testing out their small lineup with Rudy Gay at the five.

After their last win, I wrote about when Gay has been at his best for the Jazz, and for the most part, that had come filling in where George Niang left off as a dangerous floor spacer in the second unit.

However, against Cleveland, the 16-year veteran showed off a previously unseen value.

Through the first three quarters of the game, Gay played mostly backup center minutes and had a productive 15 points and eight rebounds on 5-9 shooting and 3-6 from the three-point line.

“I thought we did a good job,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of the small-ball unit. “We haven’t played small so to speak with Rudy Gay, and Royce [O’Neale], and Bojan [Bogdanovic] across the front line, I thought particularly in the first half that group had some rhythm.”

Gay isn’t a terrific rim protector, and the Jazz missed that when Gobert and Whiteside were off the floor, but his ability to rebound and end defensive possessions is an extremely important key to the Jazz small lineups and should allow them to play with the lineup more as the season progresses.

The forward will still see the majority of his minutes as a backup floor spacer, but the fact that he can play at the five in case of injury, or against certain matchups is something the Jazz didn’t have last season, and ultimately may prove to be the most valuable data point to emerge from Sunday’s win.

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