SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz welcomed Donovan Mitchell back to the lineup Saturday night after he missed two games with a toe injury, and the rookie guard responded with his best shooting night of the season, going 12 of 16 from the field for a game-high 29 points.
Mitchell was spectacular, as he has been for many games lately, but unfortunately for the Jazz, he didn’t get much help from his teammates as the Jazz were beaten by the Oklahoma City Thunder 103-89 Saturday night at Vivint Arena.
It marked the second loss to the Thunder in three days for the Jazz and third loss this month as OKC wrapped up the season series 3-1. That could be important in April if the teams happen to be battling for playoff positions.
However at this point, it looks like the Thunder will be leaving the Jazz in the dust as they improved to 18-15 on the season with their ninth win in their last 12 games, while the Jazz lost for the eighth time in 10 games and fell to 15-19 on the season.
While Mitchell was on fire most of the night, making an array of shots driving to the basket, pulling up for jumpers in the lane and sinking outside shots, most of the rest of the team struggled offensively.
Rodney Hood, who was brilliant on Thursday night when he scored 29 points, was abysmal Saturday, making just 3 of 14 from the field and 2 of 8 from long range to finish with just nine points. Ricky Rubio missed four shots in the opening five minutes and ended up just 3 of 10 for the evening with six points. Joe Ingles shot 2 of 7 overall and 1 of 5 from the 3-point line for seven points.
The only other Jazz players to reach double figures were inside players Derrick Favors and Thabo Sefalosha with 11 points apiece.
A clearly disappointed Jazz coach Quin Snyder said “execution” was the problem for the Jazz in a 14-point loss in which they only led once at 4-3.
“I don’t feel we executed offensively,” Snyder said. “When you play a team that’s as long and athletic defensively, you need each other even more and you have to execute with more force and commitment. We weren’t able to do that.”
Snyder wasn’t even in the mood to talk about Mitchell’s fine performance.
“It’s hard to look at an individual player on a night like tonight when your team’s not executing,” he said.
Mitchell downplayed his performance as he often does and said he was happy to be back after missing the past two games with a sprained right big toe, which was the first basketball injury of his life.
“I was just watching film,” he said. “I was joking with someone today, it’s easier to watch film if you don’t have five classes to study for. You’ve got all day to watch.’'
Russell Westbrook finished with his 11th triple-double of the season for OKC, getting it with 14.5 seconds left to play when he hit Steven Adams with a lob for a dunk as he finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Paul George scored 26 points, while Carmelo Anthony added 16 and Adams had 12 points and nine rebounds.
After the game, the OKC “Big Three” surrounded Mitchell as Westbrook talked to him for about 15 seconds. George and Anthony both hugged the Jazz rookie.
Carmelo Anthony on Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell: “You guys are watching something here that could be very special.” pic.twitter.com/HMp0ZLeWcz— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) December 24, 2017
Neither Westbrook, nor George made themselves available to the media after the game, so we don’t know what they thought of Mitchell’s game. However, Mitchell spoke a little about his conversations with the superstars.
As for what Westbrook said to him, Mitchell said, “I can’t say all of it, but he did say keep going, don’t stop. Westbrook doesn’t really talk to guys after games, so that was pretty cool.
“That’s the biggest message I’ve gotten from guys around the league,” Mitchell continued. “It’s easy to get complacent, and that’s my biggest fear, I don’t want to be that guy who plays well the first few games and falls back. I want to continue to build, offensively, defensively be a better teammate and continue to grow and make the right plays and the right reads.”
Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell calls it a blessing and an honor to chat with Russ, Melo and PG but says he want to beat those guys, too. pic.twitter.com/iQbVZyB4Fv— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) December 24, 2017
Next up for the Jazz are back-to-back road games at Denver Tuesday and Golden State Wednesday. Then they return home and end their brutal December schedule with a home game against Cleveland on Saturday night.