Utah came into the 2021-22 season knowing it was going to be different than years past.
The Jazz were no longer the hunters; they'd officially become the hunted.
It's a sentiment that Donovan Mitchell and his teammates knew would happen, and now it's all about how they'd adjust to it.
Utah passed its first test on Friday night, coming from behind to take down a pesky and physical Sacramento squad 110-101 on the road. Mitchell believes it was a victory that could be huge for the team moving forward because of their perseverance to fight through adversity and still emerge with a win.
"Throughout the years, this might go down as, I don't want to say one of our best, but one of our biggest (wins) because of our perseverance," Mitchell said.
Here are five things you need to know following the win:
1.) Communication Is KeyThe Jazz entered Friday night as one of the top teams in the league—a team with an identity that doesn't panic and knows how to pull out tough wins.
But despite all of the talent on the floor, Mitchell and head coach Quin Snyder believe that what makes Utah so dangerous is the trust and communication they have in one another.
Trailing for much of the game, Mitchell and his teammates were able to figure things out on the fly and pull out the win. They were able to make adjustments on both ends of the court and became hyper-efficient when it mattered most late in the game.
"For us to correct ourselves throughout the game, mid-game on the floor and not during a timeout, not during halftime, but like in the moment. … That's one thing that really stood out to me," Mitchell said. "Really, it's our communication. … We were able to speak to each other, we were able to listen to each other, and we were able to go out there and fix it."
That sort of resolve is what champions are made of—and although it's just the second game of the season, it's a good omen to see Utah developing proper habits late in games.
2.) Turnovers Can Be A ProblemFor the Jazz to win, it's a reasonably simple recipe because of all the talent on their roster—and it starts with taking care of the ball.
Sacramento likes to play fast, and when combined with its overtly physical defense, it gave Utah problems. The Jazz began to try and match the pace of the Kings and, in return, got very sloppy with the ball to the tune of 13 first half turnovers.
But when Utah started to slow things down and dictate the game's pace, they took better care of the ball and began to establish its dominance in the game. The Jazz committed just four second half turnovers and, in return, outscored the Kings by 15 points over the final 24 minutes.
If Utah can cure some of its sloppy play and take care of the ball, there might not be a more efficient and dangerous offense in the league.
3.) Ingles EjectedIn what was an interesting play midway through the first quarter, Utah's Joe Ingles was assessed a Flagrant 2 foul when he made contact with Sacramento's Davion Mitchell.
As Mitchell drove to the hole on a fast break, Ingles ran to cut him off, but realized that he wasn't going to catch up to him and tried to get out of the way. Instead of a simple layup, Mitchell gathered himself for a thunderous dunk, causing Ingles to make contact with his lower body.
The play itself was off because there was zero malicious intent on Ingles' end, even helping Mitchell off the floor and apologizing to him over two separate occasions. That wasn't enough for officials as they reviewed the play twice before throwing Ingles out of the game.
4.) Whiteside Provides ToughnessWith Sacramento trying to send a message of intimidation by playing very physical through the first three quarters, many Jazz players weren't ready for that.
But Hassan Whiteside was.
In his best game with the Jazz (including the preseason), Whiteside came off the bench and promptly gave the Kings a taste of their own medicine. In 16 minutes of action, he finished with eight points, nine rebounds, and a +18 rating, tying with Mitchell for the highest mark on the team.
"I think these guys are very experienced, and it's a smart and savvy team. … They made the game easier for me," Whiteside said. "I'm a physical guy, so I'm with it."
Whiteside elected to come to Utah and backup the 3x defensive player of the year (Rudy Gobert) instead of going elsewhere and becoming a starter, all because he believed that Utah gave him his best chance to win a title.
If the Jazz can continue to get this sort of production, physicality, and activity out of Whiteside on a nightly basis, one of the NBA's most efficient teams just got that much better.
5.) Depth Continues To Change The GameIn the season opener, Jordan Clarkson and Ingles combined for 32 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the floor and 6-for-13 from three-point territory.
With Ingles missing most of the game on Friday night, there were legitimate questions as to who would be able to provide the Jazz with that extra scoring punch as Clarkson's running mate.
It turns out that it wasn't just one player doing the damage.
Whiteside, Eric Paschall, and Trent Forrest combined for 13 points and a +21 rating. They all played well on both ends of the court and allowed Snyder to stick with his regular rotation minutes for his starters, which proved essential during the late surge in the fourth quarter.
"Can't say enough about Hassan, Trent, and Eric. … Those three guys, the minutes that they gave us were really big," Snyder said.