I always said this is another home for me when I come back here. Every time I come play here, it kind of feels like a home game. —Damian Lillard on returning to Utah
SALT LAKE CITY — A surprise text message popped up on Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell’s phone Saturday night.
The note arrived right after Mitchell had just gone off for a career-best 22 points, with a vicious putback jam, to help the Jazz beat the L.A. Lakers at home.
Mitchell’s performance caught the eye of a two-time NBA All-Star.
“Man, that was nice,” wrote Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard.
No friendly text messages were exchanged ahead of Wednesday’s game, though, as Lillard and the Trail Blazers were in town to take on the Jazz at Vivint Arena.
Lillard, a former Weber State star, received a nice ovation from Utah fans as he was announced during the starting lineups.
He dropped a game-high 33 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists but the Jazz pulled away 112-103 in overtime to win their fifth consecutive home game.
With the game knotted at 94-94 near the end of regulation, Jazz center Rudy Gobert swatted Lillard’s 17-foot floater, and then the Jazz outscored Portland 18-9 in the extra period. Ricky Rubio also ended with 30 points and five rebounds.
“I always said this is another home for me when I come back here,” Lillard said of Utah. “Every time I come play here, it kind of feels like a home game.
“They don’t boo me,” he smiled. “I feel like the crowd is supporting me and they want me to play well but they want me to lose. And then postgame, it's cool to see a lot of people I spent a lot of time with.
Mitchell pushed through a chest contusion to contribute a career-high 28 points, six rebounds and three assists off the bench against his idol-turned-rival. He relished the challenge of guarding Lillard and put up 10 quick first-quarter points in six minutes on 4-of-5 shooting with a pair of 3’s.
They often traded baskets on back-to-back possessions with Lillard pulling out different tricks of the trade to draw fouls and drain deep jumpers while Mitchell finished in traffic and nailed shots as well.
“I just love going head-to-head with a guy who loves to compete,” Mitchell said. “He didn’t say much on the court, he just went out there and did his thing, and I just tried to execute as well as I can offensively and defensively, but looking back on it, it’s kind of crazy how all that came up.”
Fifty-four of Utah’s 112 total points were scored off the bench, led by Mitchell. Thabo Sefolosha also added 15 points, nine rebounds, and three steals in 28 minutes off the pine.
Rudy Gobert finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and three swats.
“I was real pleased with how we competed,” Snyder said. “The game wasn’t real fluid really for either team offensively early on and I thought we hung in there and didn’t get discouraged.
“As the game progressed, we were much more aggressive.”
Lillard first became cordial with Mitchell during his college years at Louisville, when he spotted the league prospect rocking his signature Adidas sneakers. Now signed to Adidas, the Jazz rookie still sometimes wears Lillard’s shoes — including Wednesday's game — but he's out to make a name for himself on the pro level.
Mitchell averaged 15.6 points and 4.9 rebounds while leading the ACC in steals (2.1) as a sophomore at Louisville last season. He was picked 13th overall by Denver Nuggets but had his rights acquired by the Jazz on draft night.
The Blazers had the 15th pick, where they selected North Carolina’s ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson, who was traded to Sacramento for Gonzaga’s Zach Collins — who was taken 10th overall.
“After I got drafted, (Damian Lillard) actually texted me and said that he was hoping I slipped to Portland,” Mitchell said. “He texted me right after the draft and that was kind of crazy.”
“I thought he was going to come in and work out for us and we might’ve picked him,” Lillard confirmed. “I just thought it might fall that way, but I really was a fan of what he was doing, how he carried himself and he found a good home here.”
Utah (5-3) will return to Vivint Arena for its fourth consecutive home game Friday night against the Toronto Raptors at 7 p.m.