We came out in the second half ready to defend and ready to guard. When you have teammates like that who want to compete, that’s the type of team you want to play for. —Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell
SALT LAKE CITY — The legend of Donovan Mitchell reached new heights Friday night at Vivint Arena.
The rookie from Louisville, who has wowed Jazz fans many times already this season, put on a dazzling show as he nearly single-handedly willed the Jazz to a 114-108 victory over New Orleans.
Mitchell scored 41 points, breaking the Jazz rookie record of 38 set by another Louisville grad, Darrell Griffith. He also became the first Jazz player in five seasons to score at least 40 points and the first rookie in the NBA to score 40 points since Blake Griffin in 2010.
Mitchell scored 29 of his points in the second half, including 17 in the decisive fourth quarter when the Jazz came back from a six-point deficit in the final five minutes to win by six.
When Mitchell was interviewed for television on the court after the game, the crowd was still on his feet cheering and drowning out most of his words on the loudspeaker.
Mitchell said he “couldn’t stop smiling” and was “speechless,” but he made up for it later by sitting next to his locker and talking about his big game for some 20 minutes to the large group of media folks.
“This is crazy,” said Mitchell, who downplayed his own accomplishment by talking about the team win. “We love to compete. We came out in the second half ready to defend and ready to guard. When you have teammates like that who want to compete, that’s the type of team you want to play for.”
While Mitchell didn’t want to talk too much about his own accomplishment much, plenty of other folks did.
“That was amazing,” said Derrick Favors, who had a solid game himself with 18 points and 11 rebounds. “He went out there and played an excellent game. He was aggressive the whole night. We kept giving him the ball and kept telling him to go and make the play.”
Jazz forward Jonas Jerebko said, “I’ve been in this league nine years so I’ve seen a few rookies come and go and he’s got ‘it’. He’s very talented and works hard, plays defense, plays both ends of the floor. He’s going to be in the league a long time.”
In the other locker room, everyone was gushing about Mitchell also.
“Obviously Donovan played a great game,” said New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry. ”He kept the pressure on our defense the whole game, driving to the basket and when he didn’t drive, shot the 3-point shot. I think he’s got a chance to be a great player.”
“The rookie had a hell of a game,” said Pelicans’ center DeMarcus Cousins. “He dominated from start to finish.”
Mitchell started off on fire, scoring Utah’s first eight points of the game and had 12 midway through the first quarter. Then he cooled off, missing seven straight shots and not scoring in the second quarter. But he scored 12 in the third quarter before his big fourth quarter.
The Jazz trailed 84-80 heading into the final quarter, but Mitchell hit a 3-pointer then scored on a driving layup to put the Jazz ahead. It was 90-84 when Mitchell went out of the game for Ricky Rubio. The Pelicans scored nine straight to retake the lead before Mitchell re-entered the game and proceeded to score 12 points in the final five minutes including a couple of electrifying drives to the basket.
Besides Mitchell and Favors, the Jazz got a terrific performance from Alec Burks for the second straight game, as he finished with 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting, while Joe Ingles added 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
Cousins led New Orleans with 23 points and 13 rebounds, while Anthony Davis added 19 points and 10 rebounds before going down with a groin injury early in the fourth quarter. E’Twaun Moore added 18 and Darius Miller 15.
Like they have been lately, the Jazz were short-handed again with nine healthy players, outside of the players who have gone up and down with the Salt Lake Stars this year. Rodney Hood missed his third straight game, Raul Neto his second straight, and, of course, Rudy Gobert, Joe Johnson and Dante Exum are still out.
The Jazz got off to a hot start and led 14-8 before the Pelicans ran off a dozen straight points and stayed ahead most of the rest of the half. The Jazz regained the lead and led 41-38 with 4:10 left, only to see the Pelicans go on a 16-2 run to end the quarter capped by a Miller 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Jazz will play Washington Monday night at home, before going on the road for a game at Oklahoma City Tuesday night.