It came on a play the Utah Jazz run dozens of times a game. But this one, this time, was special.
As Donovan Mitchell dribbled past the screen set by Rudy Gobert, the 7-foot-1 center known for his defense barreled down the lane. Once the mid-air passing lane opened up, Mitchell softly floated a pass toward the rim. Gobert jumped, caught it and threw it down with two hands, cementing his name in the history books.
Gobert’s flush, which came in the second quarter of the Jazz’s 125-92 win over the Phoenix Suns, broke the all-time NBA record for dunks in a season, last set by Dwight Howard in the 2007-08 season. Gobert now has 275 dunks, passing Howard’s 269 while still a member of the Orlando Magic.
Gobert said after the game that he was aware of the record, and decided to play with the crowed a little bit.
“Jazz PR told me before the game that I was one dunk away, so I knew it was going to be my first dunk was going to be my record,” Gobert said. “I could have made the first one, but I laid it up, just to keep suspense.”
Back in late October, Gobert was already on pace to break the NBA record. After Monday’s game, he’s on pace to finish with 305 dunks on the season. Giannis Antetokounmpo is behind him with 262 dunks on the season.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder said pregame that part of the reason Gobert is getting so many dunks this season is the emphasis that’s been put on getting him high lob passes, much like the one Mitchell delivered for Gobert’s record-breaking dunk.
“We talk about vertical spacing,” Snyder said. “That's a play that allows us to take advantage of that. And I think Joe [Ingles], Ricky [Rubio], Donovan [Mitchell], all those guys really embrace throwing that pass.”
Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said he felt happy for Gobert and that he deserved the accolade because “he works his butt off.” He added that the team makes a concerted effort to get Gobert the ball in those types of positions.
“We try to find him as much as possible,” Mitchell said. “I know I’ve worked a lot at that, just trying to find him and make sure I’m making the right plays, making the right reads. It’s paid off.”
After Gobert broke the record, he converted five more dunks. Perhaps the most exciting was one he finished through contact late in the second quarter. Although, he tried to get fancy with a reverse dunk late in the third, but he missed the attempt.
Snyder said he had a conversation earlier this season with Jazz legendary point guard John Stockton about lob passes. While Snyder said the exchange was in a half-joking manner, Stockton told him to “put it where only Rudy can get it.” So far, that plan has worked well.
Gobert finished with a season-high 27 points and 10 rebounds on 9-of-11 shooting in 27 minutes.