SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell was among those who made an observation about Dante Exum’s play Sunday night during the Utah Jazz’s 110-91 victory over the Golden State Warriors.
This active and quick version of Exum looked like summer league Dante, which is saying something, considering how well the Australian point guard has been able to play in summer action.
Exum’s sixth outing of the season — after missing the first 68 games with a shoulder injury — was easily his best.
“Huge” is how Mitchell described Exum’s contributions to the Jazz’s 13th road win in 14 games.
“He’s real confident,” the Jazz rookie added. “I would say he’s getting back to his summer league days when he was being real confident, knocking down shots, doing what he can. To see him out there doing his thing is really great.”
The 6-foot-6 point guard sparked the sluggish Jazz in a big turnaround after Utah fell behind by nine points against a Golden State team that was missing Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson because of injuries and illness.
Exum’s energy off the bench — combined with the strong play of Jae Crowder and fellow Aussie Joe Ingles — helped Utah flip the momentum and seize the lead for good in the second quarter.
Exum finished with season-highs of 13 points and five assists against the shorthanded Warriors. The Jazz next play Wednesday at home against Boston — minus the injured Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving — after this 2-1 road trip.
“He made a difference in the game,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s able to break the line, get to the rim, just vertically, and that’s something that, against these guys with their length, we traditionally have a harder time doing. When we put him in the game, he did that. He gave us a lift.”
The 22-year-old, now in his fourth season after being picked fifth overall in 2014, played well in a 10-minute outing against San Antonio on Friday, too.
“I’m just trying to bring energy. I think we came out a bit flat,” Exum said. “Coming off the bench was just like, bring that energy, try to push it as much as possible, play different options with my teammates.”
It’s a compliment that Exum’s game is being compared to his summer league play.
“Yeah I’m trying to get back to where I’m trying to play my game, trying to find it as quick as possible,” Exum said. “The season is coming to an end. I kind of need to get there. Hopefully, this game gives me a bit of a boost.”
The more Exum adapts and shows he’s capable of playing a bigger role, the better it will be for Utah as it finishes off the season in a tightly contested Western Conference playoff race. That’s especially true with reserve point guard Raul Neto continuing to be sidelined with a broken wrist.
“He was great. He’s really getting his confidence back, attacking the rim, making plays, that's what we want from him,” Rudy Gobert said of Exum, who set up teammates, drove to score and hit from deep Sunday. “I mean he’s getting better and better every day. He’s a smart guy, he played hard on defense, and I know it’s not been easy for him, but he’s been great. Hopefully, he stays aggressive and keeps the same mindset.”
Exum said he’s trying to fit in with his teammates, who have played well in his absence for much of the season and especially of late.
“Yeah, I think for me coming back in, they’re all kind of connecting and doing everything,” Exum said. “For me, I got to kind of find my groove and find where I can score or assist and do my thing, so it’s just getting used to that.”