New Orleans • It started with a layup. Something simple. Something to start feeling a rhythm that, to that point, he had not felt.
From there, a 3-pointer from the top of the key — nothing special, but his first of the game.
Then came the truly absurd. Donovan Mitchell charged in the lane, floated up a reverse layup just past the hawk-like reach of Anthony Davis as he fell and somersaulted over himself.
From there, it was on: In just a four-minute span from the end of the third quarter to the beginning of the fourth, Mitchell was white-hot from the floor.
The rookie scored 18 straight points, missing only once, and his surge pushed Utah (37-30) from staying alive to playing from ahead in an eventual 116-99 road win over the New Orleans Pelicans — one that gave the Jazz what could be a critical tiebreaker over one of the teams they’re hoping to leapfrog in an increasingly competitive Western Conference playoff race.
With 27 total points, Mitchell was hardly the only factor in the Jazz’s sixth straight victory (and 11th consecutive win on the road). Ricky Rubio led the team with 30 points by spraying midrange jumpers throughout the game just out of the reach of Davis, who blocked a career-best 10 shots in a return from injury. But even Rubio had to concede that he wasn’t the one who pushed the team over the top.
“It’s great: It tells you a lot about him,” Rubio said. “A rookie could just give up and say it wasn’t his night. He kept putting us in the game, and actually he won that game for us in that stretch.”
It didn’t seem to be going that way for Mitchell, who scored just two points in the first 32 minutes of the game while being locked down by Jrue Holliday. It didn’t seem to be going that way for Utah either, which trailed by nine points going into a timeout at the 4:59 mark of the third quarter.
The Jazz had just allowed a dunk by Emeka Okafor to give up what would be their largest lead of the night. Davis, who was well on track for the triple-double he would eventually get (25 points, 11 rebounds, 10 blocks), roused the Smoothie King Center crowd to make more noise.
While Rubio, who also finished with 10 points and seven assists, was keeping the Jazz alive, they needed a turning point to stay in the game. It was then that Mitchell asserted himself, shooting 6 for 7 during the key stretch that included a pair of threes and four made free throws.
“I think it was just attacking, and I saw a lane open up and it slowed down a little bit,” Mitchell said. “I had Joe [Ingles] in my ear, telling me to shoot the ball.”
The win gave Utah the 3-1 season series edge over New Orleans, even if it didn’t move the Jazz up much in the standings. While the Jazz remain just behind the Clippers and Nuggets in the West for the eighth spot, they’re sitting just a game-and-a-half back from the Pelicans, who are tied for fourth. With a relatively easy schedule in the final 15 games, the Jazz remained in good position to finally start seeing some returns on their hot streak.
It didn’t necessarily look that way at first: Outside of Rubio, the Jazz shot just 29 percent from the floor in the first half, struggling after Derrick Favors sat with three quick whistles. Holliday kept Mitchell from making much of an impact, Davis ate up the interior, and Utah struggled to run its pick-and-roll.
But the Jazz starting lineup ended up outscoring the Pelicans 102-68, with Gobert scoring 19 points and Ingles scoring 20. And that group effort is something that continues to give coach Quin Snyder encouragement even as the Jazz work from the back of the pack to make the postseason.
“It’s not just that they’re playing with each other, they’re playing for each other,” Snyder said. “In that third quarter when we were down by nine, I thought you saw some character from our group.”