CLEVELAND, Ohio — After getting whacked in the crotch by Memphis Grizzlies trash-talking irritant Dillon Brooks midway through the third quarter Thursday night, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar Donovan Mitchell swung back after the game.
“That’s just who he is,” said Mitchell, who was ejected for his role in the altercation during the Cavaliers’ 128-113 win. “We have seen it a bunch in this league with him. Him and I have had our personal battles for years. Quite frankly, I’ve been busting his ass for years. Playoffs. Regular season. And the one game he does an alright job on me today, he decides to do something like that. No place for that in the game. Gotta protect yourself. This has been brewing for years. With me. With other guys in the league. You all see it. This isn’t new. Tonight was just the end of it.”
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The original plan was for Mitchell to speak with reporters in the locker room. Nope. Not Thursday. Wasn’t going to happen. Mitchell wanted a bigger stage, a louder microphone.
Still miffed afterward, he walked himself to the interview room, stepped up to the podium and said, “I’m losing money.”
Then he took aim at Brooks.
“Tough when you can’t guard somebody and can’t do something with somebody, you have to resort to that,” Mitchell said. “I’m not typically someone who gets ejected for stuff like that. But at the end of the day, I think my reaction was reacting to a cheap shot. If punishment doesn’t come from that, he’s just going to keep doing it. It’s just dumb to be honest with you and I’m going to appeal it because I don’t think I should’ve gotten ejected for defending myself.”
So, what should the punishment be for Brooks?
“I’m not going to say like, ‘Oh it should be this, it should be that.’ But it should be something,” Mitchell explained. “This isn’t just a Donovan thing. This has happened to other players throughout this league. And it’s bulls—. It’s complete bulls—. They talk s— and that’s fine. That’s all part of basketball. We all grew up playing that way. But when you start doing little cheap s— like that, that ain’t it.”
At the 5:48 mark of the third quarter, with the Cavs leading 81-76, Brooks missed a shot and fell in the lane. While on the floor, he rolled onto Mitchell’s ankle, flung his arm back and struck Mitchell, who had just collected the rebound and was standing over him, in the groin area. Mitchell dropped in pain and angrily retaliated by firing the ball at Brooks. The two players eventually got up and pushing and shoving ensued along the baseline in front of the Memphis bench.
As the fracas nearly spilled into the crowd, officials and players from both sides intervened before any punches were thrown.
“They got into it,” said Evan Mobley, who blocked Brooks’ shot attempt and was the closest player to the incident. “I just tried to grab Don and get him out of the play a little bit. Then everyone else rushed in and we were just, it was kind of hectic, chaotic in there. Me and Donovan eventually got out.”
Mitchell said the beef between him and Brooks, who has a well-documented history of unruly bad behavior, goes back a while. Mitchell didn’t play in Cleveland’s first visit to Memphis on Jan. 18 because of a strained left groin. But with Mitchell spending his first five NBA seasons in the Western Conference, with the Utah Jazz, there were numerous on-court battles. Fourteen career meetings in the regular season. Five more in the playoffs.
Only none quite like Thursday night.
“That was cool when we were just talking, but that right there, a line has to be drawn,” Mitchell said. “The NBA has to do something about it. I’m not the only person this has happened to and there’s no place for that in this game. I took matters into my own hands. When you have a cheap shot like that, there was no need to do that.”
In the locker room after the game, the typically jovial and personable Mitchell told cleveland.com he views the Grizzlies as a good team. He likes — and respects — many Memphis players. Ja Morant. Desmond Bane. Jaren Jackson Jr. Steven Adams. Just to name a few.
“This has been a habit for years and this isn’t new to anybody in this room,” Mitchell said. “If you can’t guard somebody then just say that. Just get a switch. You know what I mean?”
Once emotions settled and both teams retreated to their respective benches, the referees gathered to review the play and determine the next steps. There was plenty to unpack.
As that was happening, the Cavs were watching the incident as well — on a laptop.
“I’m trying to be all serious and whatnot and they’re out there just like, ’Ooh, ah,’” Mitchell said with a smile. “And they’re like saying, ‘Look who’s here, look who’s here.’ It was Robin Lopez who was the instigator, which was the funniest part about the whole thing. Watching it, telling everybody, pulling everybody over, trying to show everybody the computer. I love my guys, man. They held it down for me.”
The Cavs outscored the Grizzlies 47-37 after that heated moment.
“Everything was more physical. You felt the intensity on both sides of the floor,” Darius Garland said. “We really like games like that. We want to be in games like that. We just had to rally around each other. We used that for motivation a little bit. There was a lot going on. That was the entire message — to go out there and win one for our teammate.”
Brooks received a flagrant foul 2 — an automatic ejection — while Mitchell was assessed a technical foul and then thrown out for throwing the ball at an opponent.
Mitchell, who finished with just six points on 2 of 11 shooting and 2 of 4 from 3-point range in 22 minutes, figured he would be tossed. But he thought it would be for pushing Brooks to the ground.
As Mitchell started walking toward the locker room, an aroused crowd serenaded the beloved superstar with boisterous applause. Mitchell stopped near the tunnel, and then hugged and kissed his mom, who had a front-row seat to the scuffle. It’s only the second time in Mitchell’s career he has been ejected. The first came while defending ex-teammate Rudy Gobert. This time, Mitchell was defending himself.
He’s had enough of Brooks’ antics. And he’s not the only one.
“He’s building his own reputation,” the mild-mannered Ricky Rubio said of the Memphis swingman. “One thing is playing hard, the other thing is playing dirty, so I think that was a dirty play and Donovan stood his ground. I was supportive. Even if he gets ejected, that was a dirty play. That shouldn’t be allowed in this league.”
“It was a dirty play from the other dude over there,” Garland added, refusing to use Brooks’ name. “Tried to hit him in his groin area. So, he just had to project himself. Guys protect themselves. We just rallied behind him and protected our team.
“We’re no sisses over here.”
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