We just jelled. Tough road trip we just had, but we locked in. Coach (Quin) Snyder made it a point to focus on defense. We just rallied behind the noise, the crowd and each other and we came out with the win. —Donovan Mitchell
SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell has a rule that he abides by after games. The Utah Jazz rookie allows himself to soak up a big win and revel in his highlight plays until the clock strikes midnight.
And at 12:01 a.m.?
“That’s when it stops,” he said.
The hours between when the Jazz game ended Saturday night and Sunday officially began must have been awfully fun for the 21-year-old.
Mitchell exploded for a career-best and game-high 22 points, hammered in as good of a dunk as you’ll ever see and helped lead the Jazz to a fun 96-81 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We just jelled. Tough road trip we just had, but we locked in,” Mitchell said of the Jazz, who suffered tough losses in Los Angeles and Phoenix earlier in the week. “Coach (Quin) Snyder made it a point to focus on defense. We just rallied behind the noise, the crowd and each other and we came out with the win.”
Don't be surprised if Jazz fans enjoy the moment a bit longer than Mitchell's self-imposed celebration curfew.
This game was exactly what the offensively inconsistent Jazz and their offensively inconsistent rookie guard needed, especially after Mitchell’s early season shooting woes became a hot topic following those road losses.
With the Lakers’ high-profile rookies on the court, Mitchell looked like the cream of the class on this night by hitting 9 of 16 field goals and countering five turnovers with three steals. He also dished out a couple of assists and had a stellar plus-minus rating of plus-17.
“Not many rookies in the league are put in the position he was tonight,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after telling reporters he wasn’t going to evaluate Mitchell’s performance on a nightly basis.
“The biggest thing for Donovan is not to get too high or too low.”
Coach speak aside, it would be hard for Mitchell to get any higher than he did during the highlight of this game — heck, of the season — late in the third quarter.
After Alec Burks — yes, he played again — was long on a 3-point shot from the right elbow, Mitchell timed the miss perfectly from the opposite side of the court, took flight over Laker rookies Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, grabbed the ball with his right hand and punished the rim with a monstrous dunk.
The crowd and internet exploded after the dynamic play, which went viral.
Even the Lakers broadcast crew declared, “That is the highlight of the year in the NBA!”
Mitchell followed the sensational slam with one of his three 3-pointers — a positive sign considering he was shooting 16.7 percent from deep coming in — before coming back to earth with a sloppy turnover on the ensuing possession.
All anybody could talk about for the rest of the game and after the Jazz evened their record to 3-3 — while the Lakers dropped to 2-4 with their second loss in as many nights — was Mitchell’s monster smash.
“It was impressive,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said.
Gobert and Derrick Favors both joked that it’s about time Mitchell had an explosive dunk like that after he puts on a dunk-contest-worthy display in the pregame layup line.
“It was an exciting play. He brought the energy back into the arena, brought the energy back into the team,” Favors said. “We see him do it a lot in practice in the warmups before the game. It was an amazing dunk.”
Mitchell said he hadn’t dunked like that “in a long time,” and certainly not as an NBA player.
“It was kind of surreal,” he said.
Mitchell admitted it was a bit of a gamble, too.
“I’m big on getting back on defense, so I kind of took my chance on that one,” he said. “Either I’ll get taken up for going for the offensive board or I make it. I’m glad it worked out in my favor.”
The Lakers had pulled within six before Mitchell’s back-to-back big plays gave Utah a 75-64 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Ricky Rubio hit a key 3-pointer, Gobert contributed a strong put-back dunk and Favors added his own slam (set up by a Mitchell pass) as the Jazz held off the Lakers in the fourth quarter for the much-needed victory.
Rubio finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists; Favors had a strong double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds; and Joe Ingles and Rodney Hood each chipped in with 13 points for a Utah team that improved to 4-0 at Vivint Arena.
Brandon Ingram led the Lakers with 16 points. Kuzma, the former Ute, and Ball, the No. 2 pick, each scored nine points on a combined 7-of-20 shooting.
“Put this loss on me,” Ball said.
In the other locker room, Mitchell reminded himself that the majority of the 82-game schedule has yet to be played. Next up: the Mavericks on Monday.
Even while saying the right things, the No. 13 pick had to have enjoyed this showing, which included a sweet floater, a 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter, a steal and slam, a nice drive and dish, a pull-up trey, a tricky spin move and reverse, a scooping layup and a corner three to go with his viral dunk.
“I’ll enjoy it,” Mitchell said after explaining his 12 o’clock cut-off time. “It’s definitely great to have that happen, but we’ve got to be focused and ready to play Dallas.”