SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — His Utah Jazz teammates had been waiting for athletic rookie Donovan Mitchell to show off his explosiveness in a game. They finally got it Saturday night when the No. 12 overall draft pick caught an offensive rebound with one hand, behind his head and slammed it home in the same motion with Lonzo Ball looking up from the ground and the crowd going wild.
Mitchell scored a career-high 22 points and the Jazz held on for a 96-81 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The victory broke a two-game losing streak for the Jazz.
“I haven’t caught a dunk like that in a long time, so it was kind of crazy,” Mitchell said. “It was kind of surreal.
“I’ve been struggling the last few games offensively. Defensively, I’ve been playing well, but as a young kid, it gets in your head that you’re not scoring that much.”
The Jazz jumped out to a 21-7 lead thanks to a 16-3 run highlighted by a floater from Mitchell after he pump-faked Ball and got to his spot with a eurostep. The Lakers, however, hung around throughout the night and made it a game in the fourth quarter, but never led.
Ricky Rubio scored a season-high 21 points, had seven rebounds and four assists for the Jazz while Derrick Favors had his first double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Mitchell’s corner 3-pointer with 1:48 remaining gave the Jazz a 91-79 lead and put the game away.
“I thought that we were gritty,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I like that we shot 31 3s. We had one less turnover than last game, so showed improvement on that.
“The game became different when they started switching everything in pick-and-roll. That’s something we need to learn how to attack better. … Guys just have to have courage to drive to the basket. … There were times when we were questioning ourselves in those situations.”
Brandon Ingram led the Lakers with 16 points and Jordan Clarkson put up 15 off the bench. Ball, the No. 2 overall draft pick, finished with nine points, two rebounds and four assists — the rebounds and assists were season lows.
“We are still trying to find our identity still,” Ball said. “We are trying to run and some of the possessions are getting caught in the half court and we are just standing. So it comes with practice. We have to figure it out in practice and transition to the game.
“I think I had nine points, four assists, something like that. It’s not enough.”
Utah cruised through the second quarter before the Lakers found some momentum in the third and cut the lead to eight points thanks to nine third-quarter points from Ingram. Mitchell put together one of the best stretches of his young career to push the lead back to 75-64 at the end the quarter. He had an old school three-point play, the monstrous rebound dunk and a 3 from the top of the arc in just over 2 minutes.
An 8-2 run to start the fourth quarter cut the Jazz lead to 77-72, but the Lakers were never quite able to get over the hump.
“I think the little things hurt us down the stretch,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “They executed a little better than we did down the stretch. They hit that offensive glass, that is a big team.
“It wasn’t our guys not fighting. I thought our guys did a good job of fighting they had some big second opportunities that hurt. They made more shots than we did at the end of the day.”
Lakers: Rookie Kyle Kuzma played his first game back in Salt Lake City after spending three years at the University of Utah. He went to his favorite breakfast spot and saw his former barber before the game. … The Lakers shot 5 for 22 from 3-point range.
Jazz: Snyder wants more aggression from Rodney Hood as the team needs his scoring having lost Gordon Hayward and George Hill. Hood had a game-high nine attempts in the first half. … Rudy Gobert had his worst statistical game of the season with six points and eight rebounds.
ROUGH FOR ROOKIES
Ball has started all six games for the Lakers and Mitchell has started three and been the first guard off the bench for the Jazz. Both entered the game struggling with their shot as Ball was shooting 31.3 percent and Mitchell 25.0 percent.
Walton talked about the challenges rookies face.
“No. 1, the size, strength and quickness of everybody in this league,” Walton said. “No. 2, the 3-point line is further back. Teams scout much more in depth in the NBA. And the schedule is crazy for these guys.
“Any rookie that can contribute in the NBA is impressive. … If you’re a rookie and can get anything done at this level consistently, it’s impressive.”
Lakers: Host Andre Drummond and the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.
Jazz: Host Harrison Barnes and the Dallas Mavericks on Monday.