Utah have a chance to write one more chapter to an improbable comeback story.
The Jazz put themselves in position to claim the No 3 seed in the Western Conference after cruising to a 119-79 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night. Utah did not waste time taking control of the game and led by double digits over the final 3.5 quarters.
Donovan Mitchell scored 22 points and set an NBA rookie record for 3-pointers. Mitchell went 4-of-5 behind the arc and has made 186 3-pointers this season, breaking Damian Lillard’s record for a first-year player.
”I am actually thrilled for him that he did that,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. ”He has been our guy, offensively, all year who we have relied on. He’s unselfish, which makes the guys around him better.”
Derrick Favors added 16 points and nine rebounds. Jonas Jerebko scored 14 points, and Rudy Gobert and Ricky Rubio added 13 apiece for the Jazz.
Utah (48-33) won their sixth straight game and went 3-1 in the season series with Golden State. Now the Jazz are tied with Portland in the standings and can claim the No 3 seed with a win over the Blazers on Wednesday night.
”What makes it a story is no one expected it,” Mitchell said. ”But the thing I’ve said all year is we knew we were going to be good. I don’t think we knew we were going to be three-seed good, but we knew we were going to be good.”
It is a surprising position for a Utah team that lost last season’s top scorers Gordon Hayward and George Hill to free agency over the summer and was nine games below .500 at one point in mid-January.
The Jazz believed all along they could climb back into the playoffs picture and make serious noise in the Western Conference.
”Guys took it upon themselves to just get better in the offseason,” Favors said. ”We just stuck with the plan throughout the whole season and right now we’re fighting for the third spot. Gotta give credit to everybody on this team.”
Even with a loss to the Blazers, Utah are assured of falling no lower than the No 5 seed.
Klay Thompson scored 23 points and Kevin Durant added 13 for the Warriors, who finished the season at 58-24. Golden State, the No 2 seed in the West, never led in the game and shot just 35 percent from the field.
The 40-point loss is the largest margin of defeat for the Warriors under coach Steve Kerr.
”We need the competitive spirit,” Kerr said. ”We need the juice. We need the joy, and we haven’t had much of that. So we got to get our minds right.”
Utah dominated on both ends of the court during the first quarter. The Jazz used an 18-3 run to stake out a 24-9 lead. Rubio took a steal in for a layup and Favors scored on a pair of dunks to ignite the run.
Mitchell scored on back-to-back possessions and then followed with a 3-pointer to help push the lead to 33-14. The rookie totaled 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the first quarter alone.
Golden State appeared to rally after Durant scored back-to-back baskets to cut Utah’s lead to 35-22. But, that’s as close as the Warriors got. Jerebko and Royce O’ Neale combined to score three straight baskets to push the lead to 43-24.
”We got to be better,” Durant said. ”We couldn’t really get a rhythm or a groove out there with the way we go down so early. We started pressing a bit and trying to get it all back at once.”
Utah led by as many as 45 points in the second half. The Jazz took their largest lead at 103-58 when Jerebko buried a pair of 3-pointers and Dante Exum added a dunk to polish off a 10-2 run to open the fourth quarter.
Warriors: Thompson and Durant combined to shoot just 14-of-39 from the field … Golden State scored a season-low 33 first-half points … The Warriors fell by an average margin of 29.6 points in three losses to the Jazz this season.
Jazz: Utah scored 25 points off 16 turnovers … The Jazz had a 19-6 edge on fastbreak points and outscored Golden State 62-38 in the paint.
As the Rookie of the Year debate between Mitchell and Ben Simmons continues to heat up, the smack talk is following suit. Mitchell wore a black hoodie into Vivint Smart Home Arena before tip-off Tuesday that contained the dictionary definition of a rookie on the front.
It offered a lighthearted jab at Simmons’ status as a ‘redshirt rookie’ after he spent what would have been his original rookie season sidelined with an injury. Adidas approached Mitchell about wearing the hoodie and he went along with the joke.
”We just wanted to all have fun with it,” Mitchell said. ”That’s all it is, having fun and just enjoying it.”
Mitchell reiterated he’s not worried about the award and would rather see Gobert and Snyder earn Defensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year honors, respectively.
”We need to put things into perspective. When I was a rookie, we only won 23 games. And now some people say winning 58 is kind of a down year. That’s incredible.”—Thompson, on Golden State finishing 58-24 in the regular season.
Warriors: Will learn their first-round opponent on Wednesday.
Jazz: Travel to Portland to face the Blazers Wednesday.