It’s rare, but Tuesday night might’ve been the best of both worlds for the Utah Jazz.
Not only did they honor former Jazzman Donovan Mitchell in his return to Vivint Arena — and he put on a show — the Jazz were able to overcome their late-game struggles and pick up the 116-114 win in dramatic fashion.
“We’ve talked all year that we win as a team and we lose as a team. … I’m very happy for our guys that we were able to pull out the win,” head coach Will Hardy said. “Tonight was a good reminder of our team to have what it takes to dig in mentally for 48 minutes. I thought our team did a good job of staying in the moment and staying focused on the next thing.”
Here are five things to know following the win:
1.) Don Dominates In Return
As far as homecomings go, Mitchell couldn’t have asked for a better individual performance. Showing why he’s making a case to be involved in the MVP discussion, he finished with a game-high 46 points (tying his career high at Vivint Arena), adding six assists, five rebounds, and three assists.
He started off hot with 12 points in the opening quarter and then closed strong with 17 points in the fourth. He scored at all three levels and was particularly frisky on defense when up against Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley.
Mitchell was incredible in his five years with the Jazz, but seeing him take his game to another level while with Cleveland is particularly impressive. While I always hope the absolute best for them, as long as the Jazz continue to come out on top in their head-to-head showdowns.
2.) Clarkson Comes Up Clutch
While Mitchell may have been sensational in the final 12 minutes, Jordan Clarkson came up clutch for the Jazz when they needed it most.
Beginning with a 7-point possession — yes, SEVEN POINTS in ONE POSSESSION — he went on a personal 9-0 run as the Jazz turned a five-point deficit into a four-point lead in 43 seconds. To say he was incredible in those moments doesn’t even begin to describe how special he was, making NBA history in the process.
Every time the Jazz needed a big bucket, Clarkson was the one who answered. He was dominant, finishing with 32 points, six rebounds, and four assists on 11-of-19 shooting and 5-for-9 from deep.
“JC was massive for us in the second half,” Hardy said. “I think he had a seven-point play, which I told him to do. He’s such a rhythm player that him getting to the free throw line helps settle him a little to see a few go in.”
3.) Markkanen Makes Jazz History
Lost in the shuffle on Mitchell’s return and Clarkson’s clutch fourth quarter was Lauri Markkanen etching himself into the Utah record books.
Doing something neither Mitchell nor Clarkson had ever done before, Markkanen’s corner three-pointer in the third quarter put him over 1,000 career points for the Jazz. He is now the second-fastest player to achieve the feat, doing so in just 40 games. Adrian Dantley holds the record by reaching that threshold in just 34 games.
Overcoming a slow start by his standards, Markkanen finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds. He was particularly impressive on the defensive end, understanding that his side and length at 7 feet allowed him to bother the Cavs anywhere on the court.
4.) Finish Strong
Saying the Jazz have had a rough go of things lately would be an understatement. Following a five-game losing streak in which they lost by a total of 15 points, Utah had a chance to get back to its winning ways but struggled in the clutch in losses to Chicago and Memphis.
So when the Jazz found themselves down by five following a 17-8 Cleveland run, it appeared they were going to suffer another heartbreaker.
But like Hardy had been coaching throughout the past few weeks, Utah continued to play through its struggles and battled. Clarkson’s 9-0 run was part of a larger 13-0 run as the Jazz found success on both ends of the court.
“That’s a really gritty team win for us,” Hardy said. “We’ve talked a lot the last couple of days about our approach and mentality, being able to maintain our focus and mindset through tough moments. I thought we came out in the second half with a great purpose. … Cleveland made their run, but our guys dug in and stayed focused on the little things.”
5.) Fans Show Their Love And Support
After a lot of recent talk about what sort of reception Mitchell would receive from Jazz Nation, I think it’s extremely important to acknowledge that those inside Vivint Arena were simply sensational on Tuesday night.
Not only did they give Mitchell a standing ovation when he was introduced into Cleveland’s starting lineup, but the fans also had the perfect amount of cheers and boos. While they showed their love and appreciation for Mitchell, they still wanted a Utah victory, so they booed him loudly during his free throw attempts.
But the best interaction between Mitchell and Jazz Nation came in the third quarter, which showed how the fans genuinely feel about their former guard.
Following a missed three by Mitchell, those inside Vivint made sure he knew what happened as chants of “airball” began echoing throughout the arena. But as Mitchell looked up and grinned, acknowledging the heckling with a chuckle, the chants started to die and were replaced with cheering.
It was an incredible moment, one shared by a passionate fanbase and a former star who gave them everything he had every time he stepped on the court.
“The reception was phenomenal,” Mitchell said postgame. “I am appreciative of it from everybody, the tribute was great. It felt like it was just a typical Jazz night. … Back and forth, screaming, yelling, it was awesome.”