NBA playoffs: Donovan Mitchell connects with Rudy Gobert for game-winning alley-oop

·3-min read

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert sometimes eat lunch together, and they sometimes save the Utah Jazz's season together.

After a season marked by whispers of discord between the Jazz's two stars, the pair connected for a game-winning alley-oop in a 100-99 win over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 of their first-round series. The series is now tied 2-2.

The Jazz appeared on the verge of a 3-1 series hole in the final minute of the game when Mavericks star Luka Doncic, making a return from a calf strain, hit a step-back 3-pointer to push the Dallas lead to 99-95 with 39.1 seconds remaining.

Mitchell responded with a clutch and-1 to push the deficit back to one point. A foul on Mavericks center Dwight Powell led to zero points for Dallas on the next possession, opening the door for Gobert and Mitchell.

The sequence was probably cathartic for the Vivint Arena crowd for a few reasons. They've definitely heard about their team's proclivity for crunch-time meltdowns, which definitely seemed to be the direction the game was heading after the would-be Doncic dagger. And there are the rumors of Mitchell playing his last games for the team before a potential offseason trade, all because of his dysfunction with Gobert.

Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz celebrate a play.
Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell came up big in Game 4 for the Jazz. (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

Why Donovan Mitchell going to Rudy Gobert was so surprising

A stat went viral at the start of this month when a Twitter user pointed out Mitchell averages two passes per game to Gobert. Not two assists, two passes.

The hard number at the end of the season was 2.3 Mitchell-to-Gobert passes per game, per the NBA's numbers, representing 5.6% of Mitchell's passes on the floor. Five other players on the Jazz received more passes from the guard, despite Mitchell and Gobert leading the team in minutes played.

The ensuing discourse around The Stat made its way all the back to the Jazz. Head coach Quin Snyder responded with a 3,000-word rant pointing out, among other things, that Gobert and Mitchell "sit at the same table when they eat sometimes."

It wasn't exactly a convincing argument.

Snyder also claimed that while Mitchell's number of passes to Gobert seems low, it's not as dramatic as it seems when compared to other ballhandler-center combinations. The pair Snyder cited was the Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young and Clint Capela, which may not have been the best comparison. While Mitchell averaged 2.3 passes to Gobert, Young averaged 6.6 passes to Capela, representing 12.6% of his passes. Basically, Young averaged double the passes to Capela compared to Mitchell and Gobert.

That comparison was a bit flawed, though, considering that Young is the Hawks' point guard and nearly full-time ballhandler while Mitchell is a shooting guard who shares passing duties with Mike Conley. A better one might be, say, Devin Booker to Deandre Ayton on the Phoenix Suns. The numbers for that duo are 3.1 passes and 10.6%.

While Snyder offered up lunchtime habits and flawed comps, Mitchell conceded it was a "wild stat" but also pointed that for all their limitations, the Jazz still had the best offensive efficiency in the NBA and that he and Gobert are the league's most effective pick-and-roll combination, which rang true then and certainly rang true on Saturday, when Gobert rolled his way to a tied series.