SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - OCTOBER 20: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz reacts to a call during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Vivint Smart Home Arena on October 20, 2021 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Depth and Defense Powers Utah to Season-Opening Victory

Led by Rudy Gobert's monster double-double and Bojan Bogdanovic's game-high 22 points, the Jazz took down Oklahoma City 107-86 on Wednesday night

It wasn’t the ideal beginning for Donovan Mitchell. But there’s a reason he’s considered one of the best players in the NBA.

Overcoming a slow start, Mitchell ignited the Jazz with 12 points in a big third quarter as Utah opened up the 2021-22 season with a 107-86 victory over Oklahoma City on Wednesday night.

“I got to give credit to my teammates, first and foremost,” Mitchell said postgame. “It’s me growing and understanding that you don’t have to just go get it every chance you can, just let the game come to you.”

Mitchell finished with 16 points, shooting 6-of-17 from the floor and 3-of-10 from beyond the arc. He admitted postgame that although his shots didn’t go in, which happens occasionally, he was very pleased with his overall shot selection.

“I started off slow, wasn’t mad at any of the looks I got. … It was just the shots that didn’t fall,” Mitchell said. “I think maybe my first two years you get consumed with you got to be (the guy). Now it’s kind of like, we’re good, defense lock up and make the right plays, make the right passes and be good with that.”

With Utah’s star off to a slow start, the Jazz turned to another one of their all-stars: Rudy Gobert. 

Gobert wasted no time in getting off to a hot start, posting a double-double midway through the second quarter before finishing with 16 points and 21 rebounds. He set the franchise record for most rebounds in an opening game, surpassing Carlos Boozer’s 19 boards back on Nov. 1, 2006.

“I’m feeling more and more comfortable,” Gobert said of his offense. “I’ve been putting in a lot of work, and it’s exciting to know that I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I can do offensively.”

Overall it wasn’t the best of starts on offense for the Jazz (1-0), in the sole sense of making shots. Utah found itself with open looks the entire half but couldn’t knock them down and develop any rhythm. 

But what head coach Quin Snyder did was praise his entire team for sticking with the game plan and not forcing the action. The Jazz refused to change their identity, and it showed as the game went on.

“Being able to play off one another and understand that those things comes in waves. … We’re going to read the defense and how they play us, and the right guys, the open guys, will take the shots,” Snyder said. “I thought if anything, we were passing up shots early. I think that was a function of the first game, just being a little hesitant.”

One of the luxuries Snyder is afforded with this team is that even when the offense struggles, Utah can rely on its defense to win games. It’s a sentiment that Mitchell, Gobert, and the others take to heart every day in practice.

“As the game progressed, you know, I thought we improved,” Snyder said of Utah’s defense. “I think Donovan in particular, I thought there was a real focus on his part to move his feet, use his strength, and stay between his man and the basket.”

“Obviously, guys struggled to hit open shots from three. … But what a luxury it is that you can turn to a defense to, you know, to kind of play guys through it,” Gobert added.

Bojan Bogdanovic led Utah with a game-high 22 points, leading six Utah players in double figures. Jordan Clarkson (18 points) and Joe Ingles (14 points) once again proved deadly off the bench, combining to shoot 11-of-19 from the floor and 6-for-13 from three-point territory. 

Utah returns to action on Friday when it travels to Sacramento to face the Kings, who began the season with a 124-121 victory over Portland on Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. MST.

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