SALT LAKE CITY — Just one day after Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons “100 percent” declared himself the Rookie of the Year, Donovan Mitchell responded in a timely fashion.
First, the Utah Jazz rookie shaded Simmons by rocking an Adidas hoody to Vivint Arena with the true definition of “rookie” on the front, clearly digging at Simmons’ redshirt season after suffering a broken foot.
Then, the 21-year-old combo guard led his Jazz team to a 119-79 win against the defending champion Golden State Warriors to become the third seed in the Western Conference.
“Adidas we just wanted to have fun with it,” Mitchell said, smiling. “That’s all it is, just having fun and just enjoying it. I’m blessed to be in this spot, team to be in this consideration, but why not have fun with it as well?”
And, oh yeah, he did this all while breaking Damian Lillard’s NBA rookie record for 3-pointers made in a season with 186.
Mitchell drained his record-setting shot off a corner trey, assisted by Ricky Rubio, to give Utah a 77-40 lead at the 6:48 mark in the third quarter against the defending NBA champions.
Salt Lake City fans roared as Mitchell trotted downcourt after the big shot.
“I didn’t know until I heard half the crowd yelling at me that I had one more three to make,” Mitchell said of the shot. “That’s when I heard it around halftime, but I’m just blessed to be in this spot.
“Ricky threw a great pass and I made a great read,” he added. “Without my teammates' help, I wouldn’t even be in this spot, but I didn’t think about it until I heard it from the courtside.”
Donovan Mitchell discusses his @adidas “rookie” hoody which takes a shot at Ben Simmons. He says he’s not concerned about the ROY award but is blessed to be in this position. “We just wanted to have fun with it,” Mitchell said. pic.twitter.com/araMEfR0bm— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) April 11, 2018
Mitchell also logged the most 20-point games (46) by a rookie since Blake Griffin in 2010-11 and recorded the most team victories with a rookie scoring leader since David Robinson in 1989-90.
The Utah Jazz have now improved to 48-33, riding a six-game win streak as they head to Portland for the regular-season finale with a chance to lock up the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed entering the postseason.
This is a remarkable turnaround for a squad that started 19-28 after losing its strongest defender Rudy Gobert for 26 games with two knee injuries.
“The best thing about Donovan breaking the record is that he doesn’t really care about records,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “I think the record that Donovan cares about is our team’s record, and he’s taken the opportunities that the game presents to him, and obviously we’re thrilled for him that he did that."
From the opening tip, Utah controlled the flow, taking a 33-16 first-quarter lead as the Warriors were playing without Steph Curry (left MCL sprain), Andre Iguodala (left knee soreness) and Patrick McCaw (lumbar spine contusion).
Mitchell went off for 12 of his team-high 22 points in the first quarter, including a sick crossover that dropped Draymond Green to the ground off a pick and roll with Rudy Gobert, then capped the play off with a scoop layup at the rim.
Mitchell would go 8-for-12 from the field, nailing four of his five 3-point attempts in just 26 minutes.
Five other Jazz players scored in double figures on Fan Appreciation Night, including Derrick Favors with 16 points and nine rebounds, Jonas Jerebko with 14 points and six rebounds off the bench while Rudy Gobert and Ricky Rubio added 13 apiece while sitting out most of the second half with a comfortable lead. Jae Crowder ended with 11 points and six boards in 21 minutes.
Golden State tied a season-low with 33 points at halftime as it trailed Utah by 29 points at the break after shooting a team-worst 31.8 percent from the field.
Utah led by as many as 45 on the night, outscoring the Warriors in the paint (62-38) and fast-break scoring (19-6).
The 40-point Jazz win is the league’s largest margin of victory against a reigning NBA champion since the 2006-07 season and Utah’s biggest win against the Warriors in the Steve Kerr era.
Klay Thompson led the Warriors with 23 points on 9-for-27 shooting while Kevin Durant ended with 13 points in 29 minutes.
Draymond Green says Donovan Mitchell is his pick for Rookie of the Year but you can’t do wrong with Ben Simmons, either. pic.twitter.com/toUSlrzQFC— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) April 10, 2018
Even before the large margin of victory and record-setting performance, Green shared his pick for Rookie of the Year during Tuesday’s shootaround.
After Mitchell’s big game and second big win over the Warriors this season, the Louisville product is proving the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year right as the heated debate with Simmons continues.
“For me, I would go with Donovan just for the simple fact: I think he’s a true rookie,” Green said. “With Ben (Simmons), I think just having NBA training, eating like a pro, watching film like a pro, I think all that makes a difference.
“Not taking away anything that he’s doing because he’s having a fantastic year, and I think he’ll be one of the faces of this league for years to come,” Green added. “But for me, what Donovan has done, just coming straight out of college and doing what he’s doing, would give him the nod for me.”