The biggest thing with us is there are a lot of teams that are not as close as we are. —Donovan Mitchell
OKLAHOMA CITY — In the hallway adjacent to the Oklahoma City Thunder locker room, Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder entered the interview room for a postgame press conference following Wednesday’s intense 102-95 Jazz victory.
Snyder spoke for nearly seven minutes, followed by OKC coach Billy Donovan for another seven and a half minutes. Then a sharply dressed Russell Westbrook hit the podium for just 2:06.
When it was time for the Jazz players to enter the room, it wasn’t just one or two guys behind the microphone; there were four guys — and a toddler.
Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Derrick Favors and Rubio’s 3-year-old nephew, Max, all addressed the media.
Sure, Mitchell went off for a game-high 28 points, with 13 in the fourth, but he refused to hog the credit for helping the Jazz even the playoff series, 1-1.
“The biggest thing with us is there are a lot of teams that are not as close as we are,” Mitchell said. “Like I said all year when you hang around guys all year and you go to movies and you hang out at each other’s houses like we watched the championship game for college basketball, the national championship game together.
“That just says who we are collectively.”
If the Jazz were the Jackson 5, Mitchell is obviously Michael, but he needs Jermaine, Tito, Jackie, Marlon and even Randy to round out the group. And Mitchell certainly has those guys who play their roles effectively to put him in position to perform to the best of his ability, notably in clutch situations.
Favors ended with a career playoff high of 20 points with 16 rebounds, Rubio bounced back after struggling in Game 1 with five 3-pointers to post 22 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, while Gobert added 15 rebounds, 13 points, three blocks and two steals while keeping Steven Adams in check.
That brotherhood and camaraderie may be new to the national media, but it’s been on display in Salt Lake City from Day 1.
Wednesday’s Game 2 win after withstanding a 19-0 third-quarter Thunder run on the road was just the latest example as guys were all smiles at the podium after the win with young Max in the mix.
“The strength of our team is our team, and obviously we had some really good individual performances defensively, but that doesn’t happen unless collectively you’re connected and you’re defending as a unit,” Snyder said.
In a star-studded league with marquee names on the other team in Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, the Jazz are a rare breed with no NBA All-Stars on the roster.
The Jazz are led by a rookie in Mitchell, who wasn’t highly touted coming out of Louisville and a former D-League prospect in Gobert, who has emerged as the frontrunner to win Defensive Player of the Year.
Snyder’s system has also brought out the best in Rubio in his first playoff run, Ingles on the perimeter, and Favors, who has bounced back from past injuries.
Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, Dante Exum, and Royce O’Neale are other valuable rotation players off the bench. Even though outside of the Utah market, their names probably won’t ring a bell to the average NBA fan, everyone’s role is valuable.
They legitimately like each other. That togetherness is not just for show.
“In practice we are connected and we give advice to each other on what we see on the floor and tonight is just one of those nights where you saw how connected we are and they went on a 19-0 run right?” Mitchell said. “And I think the way that we responded as a unit and the guys on the bench and the guys like Ekpe (Udoh), AB (Alec Burks), Raul (Neto), even David Stockton everyone is engaged and they kind of give you information saying, ‘This is kind of what I am seeing,’ and ‘This is what you should do here,’ and that’s just the connectivity that Coach is talking about.”
Local fans in Utah will now get their chance to cheer on the hometown team for Games 3 and 4 Saturday and Monday. The City Edition jersey and court will be on display for Game 3, along with special T-shirts and a fan festival planned at Vivint Arena.
The individual awards and statistics don’t consume the minds of these Jazz players. Mitchell’s stellar play may dominate the headlines, but guys are aware of truly what makes them click.
That was apparent during the four-man lineup — along with the toddler — that addressed reporters after the Game 2 win as Mitchell could’ve easily stolen the show all alone.
“We played as a team; that is our strength,” Rubio said. “Play as a team and get a win.”