SALT LAKE CITY — As Donovan Mitchell walked to the media scrum, he light-heartedly yelled toward a teammate, “Man, everyone’s talking crazy tonight.”
One of those people: Indiana’s Aaron Holiday.
It was the fourth quarter, the Jazz were up by 20 and were well on their way to their 30th win. And then Mitchell went off. That’s not abnormal — Mitchell has closed out plenty of games this season — but this one was a little different.
The team didn't need him to catch fire on Monday, but he wasn’t about to back down from a challenge.
Holiday wanted to prove he could guard Mitchell.
Mitchell showed him that he couldn’t — at least not on Monday during Utah’s 118-88 win over the Pacers.
“He’s a solid player — let me start out by saying that,” Mitchell said of the battle between him and Holiday. “He’s really good. He’s a guy I respect as a competitor.”
The young Pacers guard is trying to establish himself as an elite perimeter defender, and he wanted to prove he was just that against Mitchell. Better luck next time, Mr. Holiday.
When Mitchell hit a mid-range jumper with 8:33 left, Holiday waved his hand down as if to dismiss the made shot. And then things got really fun.
After making a corner 3-pointer, Holiday picked up Mitchell in the backcourt. It was an aggressive challenge and one that didn't work out too well. The two went shoulder to shoulder nearly the entire length of the floor before the Jazz star guard dribbled right into the paint for a layup.
Holiday tried to answer. He dribbled it back down and when he got into the frontcourt, Mitchell was there clapping in his face. Holiday used a screen to get free of Mitchell but missed the pull-up shot.
Mitchell got the outlet pass and he was once again running right at Holiday. And once again, the Pacers guard couldn’t stop him.
Mitchell drove right into the paint and drilled a floater over Holiday — and then let him hear about it. He pointed and screamed after the shot, resulting in a technical for taunting.
“I think his energy was toward the ref at first, and it just became basketball,” Mitchell said. “That’s how I grew up playing — clapping in each other’s faces, talking.”
Mitchell’s scoring burst led to an Indiana timeout where Holiday was replaced, putting an end to the one-on-one battle. But Holiday’s challenge helped Mitchell put a final stamp on the game as he scored 12 points in the final quarter to finish with a team-high 25. And it helped add some excitement to the end of a rout.
“We ended up playing one-on-one for like two minutes,” Mitchell said. “So I was tired. But sometimes you gotta go.”