In the lead-up to the opening game of the 2022 playoffs, the ordinarily stoic Bojan Bogdanović had some very interesting words to say.
When asked about Utah's chances in the first round against the Dallas Mavericks, Bogdanovic simply said he liked their chances because he knew what the team was capable of. While that comment was nothing controversial, what followed was surprising given his laid-back demeanor.
"We got some new weapons," he said.
While the comment was hardly bulletin board material for the Mavericks, the fact that it was coming from Bogdanovic allowed others to think the sharpshooter from Croatia was onto something.
Forty-eight game minutes later on Saturday, and sure enough, Bogdanovich was telling the truth.
Thanks to masterful performances on offense by Bogdanovic and Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz staved off Dallas' comeback attempt to steal back homecourt advantage following their 99-93 victory Saturday afternoon.
"Not to diminish the importance of plays and execution, but I think our group, one, we continued to attack," head coach Quin Snyder said postgame. "If we continue to just consistently play throughout the course of the game to put the group ahead of any individual contribution, that formulaically for us is something that is really important."
Here are five things to know following the win:
1.) Utah Finishes StrongAll week long leading up to the start of the playoffs, Snyder and the Jazz were asked multiple times about Utah's struggles at the end of the season. They remained adamant that the postseason was entirely different, believing that everyone would see a different version of Utah once the postseason started.
It may only be the first game, but mission accomplished.
The biggest difference for Utah, especially in the fourth quarter when Dallas made a run to get back into the game, was their mentality.
They didn't panic, understanding that the Mavericks made some good shots and got some favorable whistles. Instead, Utah continued to play tough defense and execute its offense, believing in one another that they would knock down big shots.
Mike Conley and Royce O'Neale answered the call, knocking down huge shots with less than four minutes to play. The beautiful part about the buckets was that they came as direct results of execution and hustle, two parts where the Jazz had issues during their fourth quarter struggles.
If Utah has figured out how to close at the end of games, Utah could see its postseason extended further than what many expected.
"It sounds like a cliche, the old 'team effort' thing, but that is what it is about," Snyder said. "I think it requires a team when adversity comes to collectively face that and work through it, and that's what we were able to do."
2.) Bojan Bogdanovic Backs It UpAfter making comments earlier in the week about Utah having new weapons for the postseason, Bogdanovic more than backed up those words with a first half that saved the Jazz.
With Mitchell struggling to the tune of 1-for-9 shooting in the opening half, Bogdanovic answered the call as the Jazz elected to run their offense through the forward. Whether on the perimeter or in the post, the Jazz played through Bogdanovic as he touched the ball on nearly every offensive possession when on the court.
He responded with 20 points as he was easily Utah's most dangerous weapon. He did an excellent job of using his size and strength to back down the smaller Mavericks and make a living in the paint — but he was also aggressive and attacked often, forcing Dallas to rotate, which led to easy buckets for others.
Overall, he dropped 26 points, five rebounds, and four assists on 11-of-20 shooting from the field and 2-of-6 from beyond the arc. It was the sort of performance that gives him confidence, but it also gives Utah confidence as a whole knowing they can overcome a slow start from their best offensive player and still lead at the half.
"Big time," Mitchell said of Bogdanovic. "We kept feeding the hot hand, kept everything simple. He was +11 on the floor. … Very impactful on both ends."
3.) Donovan Mitchell Responds In Second HalfAlong with Utah's fourth quarter struggles being talked about so much this past week, the other hot topic was the play of Mitchell in the postseason the past couple of years. Capable of taking over a series and putting up some insane number, the question asked was how does he do it?
While never giving a straight answer, Mitchell said he likes the bright lights and trusts his game. That was never more evident in the second half Saturday afternoon.
After a rough first half in which he finished with just two minutes and had no rhythm offensively, Mitchell completely dominated over the final 24 minutes — including a third quarter that was as impressive as it gets.
Beginning with getting to the rim and attacking in the midrange, Mitchell found a rhythm that opened up everything else for him. While he served as a facilitator in the first half, he was the scorer in the second, and it paid dividends.
In the end, Mitchell finished with a game-high 32 points, adding six rebounds, six assists, and an impressive 10-for-11 from the free throw line.
"Just being in attack mode," Michell said of his second half. "I didn't feel like I was out of control or anything. The shots weren't falling so it's all good. … Just come out in the second half, be ready to go, and be in attack mode."
4.) Royce O'Neale Is Going To Keep ShootingBefore the calendar turned to March, O'Neale led Utah in three-point percentage at 41%+ from beyond the arc. Even more impressive was that it came while still averaging 5-6 shots from deep per game, a solid number of takes.
Yet since that time, O'Neale had gone from an elite three-point shooter to someone struggling massively. It got to a point where it appeared he lost confidence in his shot, passing up open looks consistently.
Those struggles continued for most of the game on Saturday — although he was sensational in many other aspects. He was 0-for-4 (0-for-2 from deep) through 45 minutes of action, again passing up some open shots.
But when the Jazz needed him most and needed him to hit a big-time shot, O'Neale looked very much like that elite shooter he was for most of the season. Leading by one, and after a Dallas three-pointer, O'Neale hit a stepback three-pointer off the dribble to give Utah a four-point lead with less than a minute to play.
"It was a big make," O'Neale said of his shot. "Every day, I just keep shooting the ball. Shooters go through slumps and just not think about the past. … Keep thinking that every one that I shoot after that is going in. Donovan [Mitchell] made a great play, found me, and just trusted in myself to make it."
It's the sort of shot that could propel O'Neale to finding him his shot once again and make Utah's offense nearly unstoppable.
5.) Rudy Gobert Is So Good… It's ScaryWhile it's still unknown when individual accolades will be presented, it's pretty clear that Gobert's streak of back-to-back defensive player of the year awards will come to an end. Whether it be voter fatigue or whatever reason, all indications are that the big man from France will have to wait another season to try and tie the NBA record for most times winning the award.
Unfortunately for Gobert — and the Mavericks — voters are not allowed to factor in postseason performances because if they were, it would be very difficult to not give him the award.
Although he was held to just five points — and only one shot from the field — Gobert was simply dominant with 17 rebounds and three blocks.
His ability to not only defend the paint but also be athletic enough to defend the perimeter when the Mavericks went small was incredible. He almost single-handedly disrupted Dallas' offense down the stretch, forcing them into contested and rushed shots.
It was the sort of performance that, although it won't show up very much in the stat sheet, it was evident that he was the best player on the floor in the fourth quarter — and that's not a good sign for Dallas moving forward.
"Rudy gets evaluated on a lot of different things sometimes two of them at the same time," Snyder said. "The fact we're even making that analysis of guy that can actually protect the rim and go out and contest the three says a lot about what's he's capable of doing. His ability to do that is essential on how we play defense."