NEW YORK (ABC4 Sports) – What a homecoming it was for Donovan Mitchell.
In his annual return to his home state, Mitchell put on a show, scoring 36 points, pulling down eight rebounds and dishing out six assists, as the Jazz opened a six-game road trip with a 108-93 win over the New York Knicks.
Mitchell made 11 of 21 shots from the field, including two jaw-dropping dunks in front of family and friends at Madison Square Garden. Jordan Clarkson added 23 points, while Rudy Gobert and Royce O’Neale each added 14 points.
Mitchell, who sat out the last game with a bruised calf, got a nice ovation before the game. He made seven 3-pointers and threw down a powerful dunk midway through the fourth quarter when the Knicks were getting back in the game. He said his mother and an aunt were part of the crowd.
“It’s fun, just seeing friends and family, being able to do that, but also understanding that we have a job to do,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s what our focus was all day, understanding that if we can put ourselves in the right position for the playoffs, keeping the main thing the main thing regardless of what’s around.”
RJ Barrett scored 24 points and Evan Fournier had 17 for the Knicks, who had won two straight and five of seven. Julius Randle was 6 for 21 for 13 points and 11 rebounds as the Knicks shot 37% from the field.
Gobert had nine rebounds and four blocked shots and backup Hassan Whiteside blocked three as the Jazz outrebounded the Knicks 49-37 and swatted 11 shots.
“Our two bigs tonight, what they did is really unique,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, noting that Gobert took only one shot in the first half and Whiteside didn’t attempt one all game. So at halftime, those two guys collectively had one shot and in the half court they’re dominating the game defensively.”
Missing some key offensive players, Utah controlled much of the game with its defense before New York trimmed it to 93-89 on Obi Toppin’s dunk with 5:19 left. But the Jazz answered with a 12-0 run, holding the Knicks scoreless for nearly four minutes to pull away to a 105-89 lead with just under two minutes remaining.
Utah only had two baskets during that stretch, punishing the Knicks by getting inside and drawing fouls before Rudy Gay capped the stretch with a 3-pointer and Mitchell later added another.
“We’re all looking at each one of these games as must-win for us,” said Clarkson, who had his third straight game of scoring at least 20 points. That’s what I’m telling you, the level of focus is super high. Each game that we’re taking is serious, it’s own thing. We want to take home all the wins on this road trip and go back home feeling good.”
Mike Conley rested his right knee ahead of the game Monday night in Brooklyn and Bojan Bogdanovic missed his fourth straight with a left calf strain. So the Jazz turned up their defense, allowing just 44 points combined in the middle two quarters of their third straight victory.
The Knicks led 31-26 after one, but Clarkson played the entire second and scored 10 points. He and Mitchell both had 18 at halftime as Utah led 60-53.
The Jazz held the Knicks to 24% shooting in the third quarter, blocking almost as many shots (5) as the Knicks had baskets (6).
Hassan Whiteside returned after a one-game absence with an illness not related to COVID-19 but Trent Forrest missed his fifth straight game with a sprained right wrist.
Snyder was asked if there were any positives in having such a long road trip so late in the season. The Jazz don’t play at home again until March 31.
“I don’t know. We’re going to some cities that have great restaurants,” Snyder said. “We anticipated this stretch for a while obviously and we’re not healthy right now. But sometimes when we’ve gone on the road and we’ve found adversity, whether it be internal or your opponent, I think there’s opportunity there.”
Utah (45-26) moves two games ahead of Dallas for the fourth seed in the Western Conference, and to within two games of Golden State for the two-seed.
The Jazz will stay in New York and take on the Brooklyn Nets Monday night.