CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – With one swing of his fist, Memphis forward Dillon Brooks sent All-Star Donovan Mitchell into a rage and galvanized the Cavaliers.
An old fashioned back-and-forth physical game turned violent with just under six minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Cavs leading 81-76.
Brooks missed a shot and fell to the floor in the lane near the baseline. As Mitchell grabbed the loose ball, Brooks rolled into Mitchell’s ankle and then swung his left fist into the air, striking Mitchell directly in the groin.
Clearly Mitchell did not believe it was an accident.
“This has happened to other players throughout this league, and it's bull****,” Mitchell said after the game. “If we're being honest with you, it's complete bull****. Those guys, 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, ain't it. And that, that's honestly where my frustration lies.”
As Mitchell fell to the floor, he threw the basketball at Brooks before getting up and shoving him twice setting off a melee as both coaching staffs rushed the floor.
“We don't have those guys that start s***, but we got guys that don't run from s***,” Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “And in this league, you have to stand up for yourself.”
After a lengthy video review, Brooks was assessed a flagrant-2 and ejected. Mitchell, who received a rousing ovation from the home crowd as he walked off the floor, was tossed for inciting the altercation by throwing the ball at Brooks.
“If anything, I thought it'd be for the push, not throwing the ball but I don't know the rules to that extent,” Mitchell said. “I'm not typically someone who gets ejected for stuff like that, but I don't think my reaction was honestly [out of line] just for me reacting to a cheap shot.
“I'm going to appeal it because I don't think I should've got ejected for defending myself to be honest.”
Cavs guard Darius Garland, who scored 32 points to go with 11 assists in the 128-113 win, was among the players that found themselves in the middle of the scuffle.
“It was a dirty play from the other dude over there,” Garland said. “Tried to hit him in his groin area, so just had to protect himself. And we just rallied behind him and protected our teammate. That's all it was.
“We're no sissies over here. We not going for all the little cheap shots and stuff like that. So everybody's happy that Don did protect himself and everybody rallied behind him as well.”
Mitchell and Brooks, who has a lengthy history of taking cheap shots at opposing players, have some history between them going back to previous matchups when Mitchell was with the Utah Jazz.
“That’s just who he is,” Mitchell said. “We’ve 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.
“But this has been brewing for years with me, with other guys in the league and you all see it. It's not something that this isn't new and tonight was just the end of it. But it's tough when you can't guard somebody and can't do something with somebody. You got to resort to that, and that's what he's done to a lot of players.”
Mitchell believes the time has come for the NBA to step in and put a stop to Brooks’ behavior.
“[I’m] Not going to say like, oh, it should be this, it should be that, but it should be something,” Mitchell said.
After Evan Mobley made both technical free throws, Cleveland went on a big run and opened a 20-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
“Whenever someone messes with one of our guys, [we’re] a very tight-knit team, everyone's cool with each other, so when you do that you light a fire and I feel like everyone responded,” Mobley said.
The young Cavs are often soft spoken and they play the game the right way, but Thursday night the Grizzlies – more specifically Brooks – went too far.
“Sometimes people mistake our kindness for weakness,” Bickerstaff said. “We don't have those brash trash talking, instigating type of guys but what our guys are is physically and mentally tough and they have fortitude to themselves where they don't take steps backwards.
“It's fun in there when you're playing in the trenches and it's physical and grimy. That's the fun part of it, and I think our guys have embraced it.”