There still are a lot of questions as to how the Utah Jazz will replace Gordon Hayward, who announced last week that he is leaving Salt Lake City to join the Boston Celtics next season.
While it is only July, and the start of the 2017-18 NBA season is still more than three months away, the Jazz already may be finding some answers.
Third-year guard Dante Exum and 2017 first-round draft pick Donovan Mitchell led a furious Jazz rally Thursday night, as Utah outscored the Celtics 22-11 in the fourth quarter of a 68-65 win in the final game of the Utah Jazz Summer League at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. Exum scored seven of his 16 points in the final quarter, while Mitchell came up with a steal that set up Julian Wright’s dunk with 4:25 left that put the Jazz ahead to stay.
“Usually, when you defend, offense comes easier, and that’s what happened for us in the fourth quarter,” Jazz summer league coach Alex Jensen said.
Mitchell, who finished with eight points and four steals, said Thursday’s win was his most complete defensive effort of the three-game summer league.
“The first game, no one really knew I could shoot and they were kind of trying to figure me out, so I had a big offensive game and defensively I had a pretty bad game,” Mitchell said. “The second game, I had an OK game on both ends, and then this game, I had a really good defensive game and was just being patient, knowing when to pick my spots.”
The Jazz finished as the only undefeated squad in the four-team summer league, though Thursday’s game against the Celtics got off to a rocky start. Utah shot just 4-of-19 (21.9 percent) from the field in the first quarter, and didn’t crack double digits until James Southerland’s 3-pointer with 28.5 seconds left as Boston (1-2) took an 18-11 lead.
The Jazz whittled the Celtics’ lead down to two points in the second quarter, thanks in large part to 10 Boston turnovers that led to nine Utah points. Boston’s Rosco Allen banked in a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give the Celtics a 34-29 lead at the break.
Celtics guard Abdel Nader scored 10 of his game-high 17 points in the third quarter as Boston stretched the lead to eight entering the final 10 minutes. But Exum and Mitchell took over in the fourth quarter, including some memorable one-on-one moments between Mitchell and Boston’s No. 3 overall draft pick, Jayson Tatum. The most memorable came when Tatum fell to the floor while trying to guard Mitchell’s crossover dribble, electrifying the crowd of 8,193 inside the Huntsman Center.
“Anytime you play a guy who’s a top pick, everybody’s coming for them,” Mitchell said. “I just wanted to go out there and show I could play defense today. It kind of all happened so fast, but it was within the flow of the game and it was definitely a spark. We didn’t really have energy in the first half, so I wanted to make my presence felt.”
Exum led the Jazz with 16 points, four assists and a steal. Southerland had nine points and seven rebounds off the bench, while Wright, Tony Bradley and Eric Griffin each had eight points.
Tatum had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Celtics.
76ers 94, Spurs 86
Isaiah Miles led five Philadelphia players in double figures with 18 points as the Sixers (1-2), minus No. 1 overall draft pick Markelle Fultz, held off San Antonio (1-2).
Jonah Bolden had 16 points and eight rebounds for the 76ers. Brandon Austin had 15 points and Furkan Korkmaz and Isaiah Briscoe each had 10.
Bryn Forbes led all scorers with 21 points for the Spurs.