SALT LAKE CITY — Aaron Holiday wanted to be able to guard Donovan Mitchell. He wanted to force him to foul, he wanted to stop him in transition, he wanted to be able to take Mitchell one-on-one so badly and match him shot for shot.
But he couldn’t.
Mitchell relished in the opportunity to play some good ol’ fashioned one-on-one, clap in your face, talk-trash basketball and was more than happy to steal the show, scoring over the Pacers guard repeatedly on Monday night and finishing with 25 points in the Utah Jazz’s 118-88 win at Vivint Arena.
For a nearly three-minute stretch midway through the fourth quarter, Holiday and Mitchell went at one another.
“He’s a solid player, let me start off by saying that, he’s really good and a guy I respect as a competitor,” Mitchell said of Holiday.
To Holiday’s credit, he did defend Mitchell well on a couple of possessions and then knocked down a 3-pointer over the Jazz star. The problem is that Mitchell is a star, possibly an All-Star, and the leader of this Jazz team. Holiday, though a good player on a good team, doesn’t have the switch that Mitchell has.
“That’s special whenever you can get Spida to wake up and really get to it, it’s a thing of beauty,” Georges Niang said. “That just shows how special of a player that Donovan is, where he can just play within the game and dominate when he feels need be, and that was just an impressive run from him.”
Mitchell turned on the switch and scored 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, many of them in the face of Holiday.
“It just became basketball,” Mitchell said. “That’s how I grew up playing, clapping in each other’s face, talking junk. We ended up damn near playing one-on-one for two minutes.”
On two consecutive possessions in the heat of the battle, Mitchell crossed up or drove past Holiday to score. After the first one, Mitchell clapped his hands together as he picked up Holiday on the defensive end. Then Mitchell punctuated the second score by pointing at Holiday and calling the 6-foot guard “little.” He received a technical foul for taunting.
Mitchell’s teammates loved every second of what they were seeing, and it energized everyone on the court to see Mitchell getting so fired up.
“You know, of course I’m going to hype Donovan. So when he got that last bucket before the timeout and called him little I was like, ‘Dang, Donovan, that’s how you feel?’ I was ready to hoop.” — Royce O’Neale
“You know, of course I’m going to hype Donovan,” Royce O’Neale said. “So when he got that last bucket before the timeout and called him little I was like, ‘Dang, Donovan, that’s how you feel?’ I was ready to hoop.”
The foul did not slow Mitchell down. After the ensuing timeout, he went on to score the Jazz’s next three points on an and-one play, pushing the Jazz’s lead to 23 points.
It’s another piece of the puzzle that shows Mitchell’s development and growth. Not only did he take the game into his hands and assert his dominance. He did it efficiently, going 11 of 19 from the floor, and he did it without taking away from the game or missing out on other opportunities.
Mitchell’s showy performance ignited the bench and gave the second unit the energy to maintain the lead and close the game, all the while adding a little bit of a chip to Mitchell’s shoulder in the knowledge that he won the battle and helped to secure the victory in the process.
So, what was it that got into Mitchell? Why this night? Why Holiday?
The answer that Mitchell gave was simple.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to ...,” and he shrugged and paused before finishing his thought with a smile. “Go.”