He’s a player. He’s a player. Kid’s got lot of game and they been riding that wave all season, because they realize what they’ve actually got, so he’s not afraid of the moment. He just goes out and plays ball. —LeBron James on Donovan Mitchell
SALT LAKE CITY — The Jazz’s December of Dismemberment abruptly ended on a night Quin Snyder said, beforehand, shouldn’t be marked by a calendar.
Maybe it should.
It was a red-letter day for at least one guy in the house.
And it wasn’t LeBron James.
James spent his 33rd birthday at Vivint Arena, proving he’s not yet done, in a game Cleveland lost to the Jazz.
Donovan Mitchell, however, had his own reasons to celebrate.
So maybe the Jazz were listening to Snyder. They can’t neatly tie their progress to the calendar. They’re trying to get better, not simply turn a page. Still, Father Time must have laughed at this.
There in the closing moments, battling it out, were 33-year-old James and 21-year-old Mitchell. This time, youth won. James had 29 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block. Mitchell had 29 points, four rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block.
Meanwhile, the Cavs had a headache after losing three straight road games in the West.
“This trip? Trash,” said James. “It was a trash trip.”
Even though Snyder says he isn’t marking months, he would have to admit that 2018 is looking better than it did 24 hours earlier. His team went 2-10 between Dec. 5 and Dec. 27.
Considering Rudy Gobert is out, it stood to reason the Jazz would struggle against the relentless December schedule. They played 14 likely playoff teams; eight current playoff contenders are on the schedule for January.
“It’s not like the schedule gets a lot easier after December, or like it’s a good bookend for us,” Snyder said. “They’re all hard in the NBA.”
The third quarter of Saturday’s game was a fresh start, regardless. The Jazz outscored Cleveland 28-16 and never relinquished the lead. But down the stretch, with Mitchell at the point, the Jazz held off Cleveland’s run. He made a layup, found Derrick Favors for a dunk, hit a pair of free throws, and shrieked past J.R. Smith for a layup with 34 seconds remaining in the 104-101 win.
Aside from the basketball part, Mitchell is taking notes from James in other areas. For instance, being all grown up. Despite the disappointing loss, James went out of his way to compliment Mitchell.
“He’s a player. He’s a player,” James said. “Kid’s got lot of game and they been riding that wave all season, because they realize what they’ve actually got, so he’s not afraid of the moment. He just goes out and plays ball.”
Sounds a lot like the king himself.
Before the comparisons get weird, it should be noted Mitchell is merely an All-Star hopeful. James is a four-time MVP and three-time champion. James had 20 points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block — in the first half.
For Mitchell, that would be a fine night in his first season.
For James, it’s called “punching the clock.”
At halftime, a woman on a 10-foot unicycle balanced numerous cereal saucers on her head, hands and feet as she rode. Isn’t that what James does?
He’s a one-man variety show.
Mitchell is good enough to become an All-Star, whereas James is good enough to have an era named after him.
So it went. It’s always this way when James plays against the Jazz. While he hasn’t defeated the Jazz in Salt Lake since 2010, he has nearly always delivered numbers. Gaudy stats, for him, are as routine as a stoplight: a cross-court, behind-the-back bounce pass for an assist; a dunk that could bring down the pyramids; a pass that has all five senses.
He did all of these on Saturday, and more.
Yet the Jazz weren’t in awe. During the three-day buildup, they appeared weary of discussing how good James is. Tell us, Burger King, how great is the Big Mac, anyway?
In the end, the Jazz did everything Snyder could have hoped. They pushed the ball up court, forced turnovers, contested shots and, above all, didn’t buckle when Cleveland cut the lead to one with 1:34 to go.
Mitchell starred. Again.
For James, Saturday indicated one more year of excellence. For Mitchell and the Jazz, it proved a great new way to mark the seasons.