NEW YORK — New York’s Kevin Knox was in front of Donovan Mitchell as the Jazz star drove inside.
And then he inexplicably rotated away.
You leave Mitchell a free run at the rim and one thing will happen — and it happened.
Mitchell rose up, cocked the ball back and delivered the tomahawk jam with such authority that it sent “oohs” throughout Madison Square Garden — and not just from the hundreds of family and friends that came to watch Mitchell play in his home state.
It may not have been a classic Madison Square Garden performance for Mitchell in his homecoming, but only because it’s hard to have a classic performance of any kind over this year’s Knicks.
Mitchell’s first-quarter dunk just about summed Utah’s 137-116 win over New York on Wednesday. Mitchell and the Jazz putting on an offensive show and the Knicks showing a complete inability to stop it. The win was Utah’s fifth straight as it improves to 42-29 on the season.
Mitchell dropped 30 points in his return home on 12-of-20 shooting. And he did that without playing in the fourth quarter.
And Mitchell's one-handed slam wasn’t the only play that elicited cheers. He had a number of acrobatic layups and nearly was able to finish an alley-oop with a high-flying jam (he had to settle for just pushing the ball in the basket).
“He’s a nightmare to guard,” New York coach David Fizdale said. “The guy can get anywhere on the floor. He’s so strong, he’s fast, he can shoot the three, he finishes through contact.”
And he’s getting used to doing on the biggest stages. While the Knicks have the league’s worst record at 14-58, The Garden is still The Garden. And even with throwing in the added pressure of playing in front of friends and family, Mitchell was relaxed and confident. That much was clear by watching him play. Mitchell came out and scored 12 points in the first quarter, throwing a punch that the Knicks never recovered from.
“It’s hard to put his brain on Sportscenter,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “So when you see Donovan a lot of time it’s a highlight and that's great. But the way we need him to guard and keep guarding and lead, those are things he does — they just don’t show up as much in the box score than making a jumper.”
Mitchell's stellar offensive performance was one of just many for the Jazz on the night.
Before the game, Snyder joked when he was asked what specifically he wanted his team to become better at during the closing stretch of the season.
“Isn’t enough just to get better?” Snyder quipped. “I’d like for us to shoot 80 percent.”
Utah might not have shot 80 percent against the Knicks, but it wasn’t all that far off that number either. The Jazz hit 63.3 percent from the field in the first three quarters as they built a lead that grew to as many as 37 points.
Rudy Gobert had 18 points — which included seven dunks — and nine rebounds. Joe Ingles made five 3-pointers on his way to an 18-point performance. Ricky Rubio added 12 points and Jae Crowder had 15 points for the Jazz.
Utah was 20-of-42 from the 3-point line — the 20 makes tied a franchise record for most 3-point makes in a game. The Jazz assisted on 38 of their 48 field goals.
“It’s a good win,” Snyder said. “We have another one tomorrow night, and more games after that. Like I said, I’m not trying to temper any enthusiasm. I’m excited we played well. … We have to stick to business and keep getting better.”