Rudy Gobert set the pick at the top of the 3-point line, freeing Donovan Mitchell from the defense of Josh Hart. As Mitchell turned the corner and surveyed the scene, he saw only JaVale McGee between him and the basket, and accelerated. Unfortunately for McGee, he reached the same conclusion a moment too late.
Mitchell capped his explosive opening half by rising in the air, cocking the ball back, and throwing down a vicious one-handed dunk that had the Vivint Smart Home Arena faithful howling in delight, and the visiting Los Angeles Lakers wondering how it all went so wrong so fast.
For Mitchell, serving as the de facto point guard did nothing to slow his game, as he totaled 33 points and added a career-high-tying nine assists, as the Jazz blew past the Lakers 113-95 Friday night.
“My biggest thing is just trying to make the right reads,” Mitchell said. “It’s been my thing since I first got here. Just continuing to play under control and find guys.”
With Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, and Raul Neto all out due to injury, the Jazz moved Mitchell to the point and started Royce O’Neale at the two. The lineup paid dividends from the outset, as Utah’s first possession saw Mitchell locate a wide-open O’Neale for a 3-pointer.
A minute later, Joe Ingles — the Jazz’s other primary ball-handler for the evening — located an again-wide-open O’Neale for another trey.
“People don’t know that Royce is one of the best shooters on the team. Tonight was a night that people got to see it,” said Mitchell “… He’s improved his jumper tremendously, as a night like tonight showed.”
Still, thanks to the iso-ball success of Lakers forward Brandon Ingram, the first quarter never got out of hand.
The same could not be said for the second.
L.A. suddenly couldn’t make a shot — missing its final 14 attempts from the field in the quarter. The Jazz took advantage, closing on a 12-4 run — including an Ingles layup, Mitchell’s dunk, a Gobert dunk, and 3s from Ingles and O’Neale — to blow the game open and take a 62-41 lead into halftime.
As dominant as the Jazz were in the second quarter, though, they were equally as middling in the third.
Stagnant offense, inexplicable turnovers, poor shot selection, lack of effort on the boards — and suddenly, the Lakers’ small-ball lineup, featuring Michael Beasley at center, went on a run, getting as close as 10 points, at 76-66.
That seemed to snap the Jazz back to attention. They closed the quarter on a 7-2 run — as L.A. again went cold, missing its final seven shots — to enter the final frame up 15.
The Lakers posed no threat to meaningfully closing the gap thereafter.
In the end, Utah’s second straight win got the team above .500 for the season, at 22-21.
Mitchell proved an effective and efficient catalyst throughout the night, striking the right balance between hunting his own shot and locating open teammates. He wound up making 14 of 24 shots — including 4 of 5 from deep.
“I think his decisiveness to attack — you don’t even have to think of it as scoring, it’s just attacking,” said coach Quin Snyder. “Sometimes he’ll be the one to score, sometimes he’ll pass it, sometimes he’ll miss it and we’ll rebound it. Really, he was ready to go tonight.”
He was hardly alone, though, as plenty of his teammates stepped up with big contributions. Each member of the frouncourt contributed a double-double, with Ingles registering 14 points and 12 rebounds, Gobert chipping in 12 points and 18 rebounds, and Derrick Favors totaling 15 points and 13 rebounds.
“We’re short some guys, so we needed any and everybody to step up,” said Jae Crowder. “Next-man-up mentality, and a lot of guys stepped up tonight.”
Meanwhile, O’Neale’s rare start saw him connect on five triples en route to 17 points (plus seven rebounds).
The fifth of those treys — off an assist from Mitchell, naturally — made it 103-82 with just under 5 minutes to play and effectively put an end to whatever misguided lingering doubts there were about the outcome.
“I don’t remember how many 3s I shot, but they was open, so I kept shooting,” said O’Neale. “Coach is always telling me when I’m open just shoot it.”
And if Mitchell keeps seeing open lanes to the rim, well, he doesn’t need to be told to just keep posterizing.
“It was pretty sick,” Crowder conceded with a grin. “I don’t know what to tell you — it was pretty crazy.”