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“Big Time” |  Mitchell and Bogdanovic dominate playoff opener

Looking ahead to the opener of the 2022 qualifiers, the ordinarily stoic Bojan Bogdanović had some very interesting words to say.

Asked about Utah’s first-round chances against the Dallas Mavericks, Bogdanovic simply said he liked their chances because he knew what the team was capable of. While there was nothing controversial about that comment, what followed was surprising given his laid-back demeanor.

“We have new weapons,” he said.

While the commentary was hardly bulletin board material for the Mavericks, the fact that it came from Bogdanovic made others think the Croatia sniper was onto something.

Forty-eight minutes later on Saturday, and sure enough, Bogdanovich was telling the truth.

Thanks to masterful offensive performances from Bogdanovic and Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz repelled Dallas’ comeback attempt to regain home-court advantage after their 99-93 win on Saturday afternoon.

“I don’t want to diminish the importance of plays and execution, but I think our group, one, we kept attacking,” head coach Quin Snyder said after the game. “If we continue to play consistently throughout the game to put the group ahead of any individual contribution, that’s a very important formula for us.”

Here are five things to know after the win:

1.) Utah finishes strong
Throughout the week leading up to the start of the playoffs, Snyder and the Jazz were repeatedly asked about Utah’s struggles at the end of the season. They remained adamant that the playoffs were entirely different, believing that everyone would see a different version of Utah once the playoffs began.

This may only be the first game, but mission accomplished.

The biggest difference for Utah, especially in the fourth quarter when Dallas raced back into the game, was their mentality.

They didn’t panic, understanding that the Mavericks made good shots and got favorable whistles. Instead, Utah continued to play tough defense and execute their offense, believing in each other that they would knock down the big shots.

Mike Conley and Royce O’Neale answered the call, knocking down huge punches with less than four minutes to play. The beautiful part of the buckets is that they’re a direct result of running and hustle, two parts where the Jazz struggled during their fourth quarter struggles.

If Utah figured out how to shut down at the end of games, Utah could see its playoffs extended further than many expected.

“It sounds like a cliché, the old ‘team effort’ thing, but that’s what it’s all about,” Snyder said. “I think it takes a team when adversity comes to deal with it collectively and work through it, and that’s what we were able to do.”

2.) Bojan Bogdanovic supports him
After making comments earlier in the week about Utah having new playoff weapons, Bogdanovic more than backed up those words with a first half that saved the Jazz.

With Mitchell struggling for a 1-for-9 shot in the first half, Bogdanovic answered the call as the Jazz opted to drive their offense forward. Whether on the perimeter or in the post, the Jazz played through Bogdanovic as he touched the ball on almost every offensive possession when he was on the court.

He answered with 20 points as he was easily Utah’s most dangerous weapon. He did a great job using his size and strength to back the smaller Mavericks and make a living in the paint – but he was also aggressive and often attacked, forcing Dallas to spin, which led to easy buckets for the others.

Overall, he lost 26 points, five rebounds and four assists on 11 of 20 shooting from the field and 2 of 6 from beyond the arc. It’s the kind of performance that gives him confidence, but it also gives Utah confidence as a whole, knowing they can ride out a slow start from their best offensive player and still lead at halftime.

“It’s great,” Mitchell said of Bogdanovic. “We kept feeding the hot hand, it was all straight forward. He had +11 on the ground. … Very impactful on both sides.”

3.) Donovan Mitchell responds in the second half
In addition to Utah’s fourth-quarter struggles that were so much talked about last week, the other hot topic has been Mitchell’s playoff play over the past two years. Able to take over a series and put on a crazy number, the question asked was how does he do it?

Never giving a straight answer, Mitchell said he liked the bright lights and was confident in his game. It was never more evident in the second half on Saturday afternoon.

After a tough first half in which he finished with just two minutes left and had no rhythm offensively, Mitchell completely dominated the final 24 minutes – including a third quarter that was as impressive as it gets.

Starting by reaching the rim and attacking in the midrange, Mitchell found a rhythm that opened up everything else for him. While he served as an enabler in the first half, he was the scorer in the second, and it paid off.

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.

“I’m just in attack mode,” Michell said of his second half. “I didn’t feel like I was out of control or anything. Shots weren’t coming in, so it’s fine. … Just get out in the second half, be ready to go and be in attack mode.”

4.) Royce O’Neale will keep shooting
Before the calendar turned to March, O’Neale led Utah with 41%+ three-point percentage from beyond the arc. Even more impressive is that he came while averaging 5-6 shots from deep per game, a solid number of catches.

Yet, since that time, O’Neale had gone from a sniper three-pointer to someone who struggled massively. He got to a point where it looked like he had lost confidence in his shot, consistently passing open looks.

Those struggles continued for most of Saturday’s game – although it was sensational in many other ways. He was 0 for 4 (0 for 2 from deep) for 45 minutes of action, again letting a few open shots through.

But when the Jazz needed him the most and needed him to hit a big shot, O’Neale looked a lot like the sniper he was for most of the season. Leading by one, and after a Dallas three-pointer, O’Neale hit a step back three-point off the dribble to give Utah a four-point lead with less than a minute left.

“It was a big achievement,” O’Neale said of his shot. “Every day I keep shooting the ball. Shooters go through crunch times and just don’t think about the past. … Keep thinking everyone I shoot after that comes in. Donovan [Mitchell] did a great piece, found me and just relied on me to do it.”

It’s the kind of shot that could cause O’Neale to find his shot again and make Utah’s offense nearly unstoppable.

5.) Rudy Gobert is so good…it’s scary
While it’s still unclear when the 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’s voter fatigue or some other 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 in winning the award.

Unfortunately for Gobert — and the Mavericks — voters aren’t allowed to consider playoff performances, because if they were, it would be very hard not to give him the award.

Although only held to five points – and 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 got small was incredible. He almost single-handedly disrupted Dallas’ offense on the stretch, forcing them into contested, rushing shots.

It was the kind of performance that, although it didn’t show up much on the stat sheet, it was obvious he was the best player on the court in the fourth quarter – and that’s not a good sign. for Dallas to move forward.

“Rudy is valued on a lot of different things, sometimes two of them at the same time,” Snyder said. “The fact that we’re even doing this analysis of a guy who can actually protect the rim and go out and challenge all three says a lot about what he’s capable of. His ability to do that is key to how we play in defense.”

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