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The nonverbal connection between Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley paid off again

The two All-Star guards came up big for the Jazz down the stretch in hard-fought victory over Sacramento. Here’s how they did it

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Sacramento’s Davion Mitchell goes for a 3-pointer as Utah’s Donovan Mitchell defends during game in Salt Lake City.

Sacramento guard Davion Mitchell (15) goes for a 3-pointer as Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell defends during game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Mitchell and backcourt mate Mike Conley came up big for the Jazz in victory over the Kings.

Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

If anyone had forgotten that the Utah Jazz had three All-Stars last season, Tuesday night’s game served as a fresh reminder.

While Rudy Gobert served, as he always does, as the defensive anchor of the team and finished with a 12-point, 20-rebound double-double, it was Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell who took on the bulk of the scoring load in order to get past the Sacramento Kings.

Mitchell finished the night with 36 points, eight rebounds and six assists, shooting above 40% from 3-point range. Conley added 30 points, three rebounds and two assists. Though Bojan Bogdanovic was able to get to the rim quite a bit, chipping in 20 points, the rest of the Jazz were having trouble scoring, especially from outside.

“Me and Don had it going,” Conley said after the 119-113 win over the Kings. “As far as the rest of the team, we were missing shots we normally make. In those moments you just have to go with what’s working.”

Conley and Mitchell were deliberate and innovative with the ball, carving up the defense in different ways and taking turns initiating the offense. While Conley is the one with 14 years of NBA experience in the bag, Mitchell looked like a seasoned veteran in his decision-making on Tuesday.

“I thought he was really precise with the ball,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of Mitchell. “No one makes the right play every time, but he made the right play a lot of times.”

It can often seem as if Conley and Mitchell are able to read each other’s minds, smoothly transitioning from one of them playmaking and one playing off the ball, one acting as the aggressor and the other acting as a decoy, and then switching roles without even the slightest hitch. Though the Jazz’s two All-Star guards don’t have telekinetic powers, they do have their own way of communicating.

“Me and Don kind of have non-verbal communication,” Conley said. “He’ll look up at me and just kind of (nod), with his hands on his knees and I’m like ‘all right, I’ll take the ball for a few possessions.’ That’s what we’ve done in the past and tonight was no different.”

Though the two combined for 66 points on the night and were leaders on the offensive end, after looking at the box score, Mitchell said that it was really what he was able to do on the defensive end that he was proud of.

Snyder echoed those sentiments and said that he’s been more than impressed with the way Mitchell and Conley have both taken on larger and more impactful defensive roles through the first seven games of the season.

“Those two guys defensively have taken a step, they’ve raised their level,” Snyder said. “I think it becomes even more important for them to feel the game offensively, and there’s some things that we do that give them the opportunity to make those decisions on the fly on the court based on matchups, or if one guy has it going a little bit, or if one guy is tired. That’s the definition of a backcourt.

Not every night is going to be like it was on Tuesday, with the Jazz shooting below 30% from 3-point range, and not a single bench player scoring in double figures, but when the Jazz are hurting to find points or to create scoring opportunities, it’s the experience, talent and wisdom of Conley and Mitchell that will guide them.

“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been in close games or games where shots aren’t falling and we’re still able to execute and think through the game,” Mitchell said. “It helps when you have a 15-year veteran to say ‘Here, you’ve got it and I’ll stand out of the way.’”