SALT LAKE CITY — Darrell Griffith and Donovan Mitchell sat side-by-side laughing in front of the young Jazz star’s locker following Utah’s 117-102 win over Dallas on Wednesday. The two have shared a connection ever since Mitchell’s freshman season at Louisville. It was during that season that Griffith attended a practice and then-Louisville coach Rick Pitino pointed out Mitchell, and informed the Golden Griff that “that guy is going to be special.”
On Wednesday night, Mitchell once again proved his former coach right.
“He’s got a bullseye on his back,” Griffith said. “They know he's coming.”
Dallas knew, but they couldn’t do much to stop him. Mitchell finished with 23 points, seven assists and five rebounds in the game. It wasn’t just the stats, but the way he got him that left the Vivint Arena crowd buzzing on Wednesday.
Mitchell dribbled the ball on the perimeter as the final first-half seconds ticked away. With just under four seconds left, he made his move. Mitchell started to dribble right before crossing the ball to his left hand and driving past Luka Doncic into the paint. And when he reached that point, Donovan did what he does best: dunk.
Mitchell elevated high, cocked the ball back and slammed it over Maxi Kleber to the raucous approval of the home crowd.
“It was amazing,” point guard Ricky Rubio said. “It was fun to watch.”
Even "Dr. Dunkenstein" was impressed.
“That halftime dunk was…,” Griffith said as his voice trailed off.
He didn’t have to finish. Everyone knew what he was thinking.
The play came as a little shock to Mitchell, especially since he was coming off an ankle injury that forced him to miss Monday’s game against Toronto. He didn’t intend to dunk when he started the move; he just wanted to get a good shot. Boy, did he get one.
“I just went up and it kind of just happened,” Mitchell said. “I wanted to go right, to be honest with you, but just made a counter. A lot of those times, you don’t think, you just do.”
Mitchell’s highlight reel dunk got the big reaction (not to mention a tip-in slam that came less than a minute into the second half), but it was his growing playmaking skills that really helped Utah pull away from the Mavericks.
Mitchell finished with seven assists on the night and set up another handful of open shots.
“He’s improving every day,” said Rubio, who finished with 10 assists himself. “He’s a special kid. Scoring is his strength, but playmaking is going to help a lot to him. And to us.”
Mitchell began the second quarter by getting outside of the 3-point line. Out of a double team, he fired a cross-court pass that went by another Maverick defender to an open Dante Exum who drilled the corner 3-pointer. With one pass, Mitchell took three Dallas players out of the play. Those types of passes weren’t uncommon on Wednesday.
“I think the biggest thing that I’ve been working on is finding the open man,” Mitchell said. “Last year, (it) was kind of like tunnel vision. Now, understanding that everyone is looking for that drive and so guys are going to be wide open.”
Mitchell was stuck. Or at least he appeared to be. Dallas was at the end of a run that saw it cut what was a 26-point Jazz lead to 9 midway through the fourth. The Jazz needed an answer.
They got one.
With just under six minutes remaining, Mitchell drove to the rim and jumped. He was met by Dallas’s Deandre Jordan, who looked like he had completely bottled up the Jazz shooting guard. But Mitchell didn’t force a shot, instead, he fired a one-handed pass around Jordan to the corner to an open Jae Crowder, who had 14 points in the game, for a foot-on-the-line two-pointer.
“Just knowing where guys (are) going to be,” Mitchell said. “We have that set up. Just having a trust that the guys are going to be there. That’s been our biggest thing. I don’t have to look to see him. I just knew where he was going to be there. And he was. And he knocked it down.”