With every win, the Utah Jazz know the target on their backs gets a little bigger.
“You really never get no nights off, but now knowing what our record is … teams are coming after us,” Jordan Clarkson said. “Every time we lace them up, we’re getting the best shot the other team can give.”
That’s especially true when you’re facing the reigning MVP and an Eastern Conference contender coming off a frustrating defeat. But even Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks couldn’t slow down the NBA’s hottest team Friday night.
The Greek Freak scored a game-high 29 points, but the Jazz countered with four players with at least 25 in a 129-115 Jazz victory.
Rudy Gobert had 27 points and 12 rebounds. Joe Ingles tied his career-high with 27 points to go along with five assists. Donovan Mitchell dropped in 26. And Clarkson scored 25 off the bench.
“When we’re playing the right way, no one cares who scores,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said, “and no one knows who’s going to score on given possession if we’re playing the way we want to play.”
The Jazz are now 21-5 on the year — the best start in franchise history. But Snyder wouldn’t want his club focusing on that right now.
“Nobody is beating their chest about anything we’ve done,” Snyder said. “Frankly, you never want to do that and it’s never appropriate unless you’re the last team standing.”
The Jazz, however, had plenty to boast about Friday.
Ingles started the night on fire, going 4-for-4 from deep in the opening minutes of the game. Ingles also found Gobert for a monster dunk over Antetokounmpo in the opening minutes.
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) February 13, 2021
The reigning MVP made just one shot in the opening frame. The Jazz shot better than 50 percent from the floor in the first and led 35-31 after one.
Utah continued to extend the gap from there. Midway through the second, Clarkson grabbed a rebound, pushed the ball into the front court, and pulled up over Antetokounmpo for a 3-pointer to put the Jazz up 10.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer expected a tough night as his squad prepared for the Jazz.
“They’ve been one of the best teams in the league, if not the best team in the league, to date,” Budenholzer said. “The way they execute on both ends of the court is impressive. We’ve seen it up close and personal. Certainly, there’s a long way to go, but standings-wise, the feel in the moment, watching them on film, everything says this is one of the top teams in the league.”
The Jazz would keep adding to their highlight reel. In the second, Bojan Bogdanovic, still in the air, caught a pass and sent it behind his back to Mitchell in the corner before he ever hit the ground. Mitchell one-upped him, rifling a one-handed rocket to the other corner for Ingles, who drained another 3. Ingles had 20 points at half time on 6-for-7 3-point shooting. He also had five assists in the half.
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) February 13, 2021
It would seemingly would not be a Jazz game without a 20-point lead. That came with just under four minutes left in the third, when Derrick Favors caught a lob from Mitchell for a layup that put Utah up 21.
“The best part about us is we don’t really care who it is scoring,” Mitchell said. “That’s what separates us from a lot of teams and that’s hopefully what will separate us from other teams.”
Antetokounmpo came alive late in the game but it was too late for Milwaukee to mount a comeback. Credit Jazz forward Royce O’Neale with helping to slow down the MVP.
The Jazz remain in first place in the Western Conference. Mitchell wants his teammates to enjoy the fruits of their labor while remaining focused on the bigger picture.
“We’re at a point where people are coming at us,” Mitchell said. “The way we’ve responded to that is impressive. I think there’s a lot more we can do to get better, but it doesn’t hurt to be in the moment and know what we’re doing is pretty cool. But we’re not here to be the best team in February.”
The Jazz will be right back at it on Friday night, when the host the Miami Heat. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Vivint Arena.