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Donovan Mitchell, Dillon Brooks get into scuffle; Cavs, Grizzlies react

Donovan Mitchell, Dillon Brooks get into scuffle; Cavs, Grizzlies react

Thursday night’s matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies was a showcase of the brightest young talents the NBA has to offer.

Both teams were trading runs, as Ja Morant and Darius Garland took turns getting into the paint and finishing or finding their guys for great looks. Evan Mobley would not be denied on the offensive glass, and his aggressive ascent continued. Desmond Bane was firing on all cylinders from distance.

Then, the game abruptly came to a halt when Mobley blocked Dillon Brooks on a fastbreak opportunity. As Donovan Mitchell came up with the loose-ball rebound near the baseline, a grounded Brooks rolled into his ankle and, with his left hand, struck Mitchell in the groin. 

Mitchell tossed the ball back at Brooks in disgust and promptly shoved him. Chaos ensued.

As both sides tried to de-escalate the situation, the two were separated. After a review of the play, Mitchell was ejected for a “hostile act” while Brooks was handed a Flagrant 2 penalty and also tossed.

With a five-point advantage at that point in the third quarter, the Cavs ended up going on a 23-11 run that bled over into the opening part of the fourth quarter. Cleveland did not relinquish the lead, and ended up victorious over Memphis by a final of 128-113.

After the contest, unplanned and knowing the financial ramifications to come, Mitchell requested to speak on the matter. When asked if he felt it was a cheap shot, the All-Star guard did not hold back his feelings about Brooks, whom he’s encountered plenty of times.

“Yeah. For sure. That’s just who he is. 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,” Mitchell said. 

“You’ve gotta protect yourself at the end of the day. 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. It’s tough when you can’t guard somebody and you can’t do something with somebody, you’ve got to resort to that. And that is what he has done to a lot of players. Off the top of my head, I think it’s like Dame [Lillard] and Steph [Curry]. It’s just one of those things you resort to and that’s cool, but I’m glad my guys held it down tonight and had my back throughout the whole thing.”

Mitchell continued to address the matter with Brooks.

“We have been talking nonstop, but I wouldn’t say [it's ever gotten] to this extent. There’s always been talk. You can go back. I think it was like two years ago, regular season, 30 points a game (against him), it’s nonstop talking back and forth. 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. But at the end of the day, that ain’t it.

“I didn’t think it would be like that. Maybe the jawing back and forth, which is part of the game and it’s cool or whatever, but when you have a cheap shot like that – there was no need to do that. I wasn’t expecting that and then, that’s just how I reacted. If you just can’t guard somebody then just say that or just get a switch. You know what I mean? That’s what it is. It is what it is.”

In the Grizzlies’ locker room, with Morant coming to his teammate’s defense and telling reporters to only ask his teammate about the game itself, Brooks didn’t have much to say other than that his Flagrant 2 saved him a couple of technical fouls.

“I just think people don’t like me,” Brooks said.

Morant denied any kind of previous tension or history regarding his team and Mitchell, and shared his opinion on the matter in a broader context of NBA teams.

“I ain’t gonna speak on the play. I’mma just speak on pretty much everything. Anything when it comes to negative with the Grizzlies, we normally get the punishments. It ain’t the same. They hate us... We don’t like them. I’m standing on that. That’s how it is though. It’s a little situation going on now, I ain’t gonna speak on it yet, but if some sh** don’t change, y’all will gonna hear me speak on it. 

“We don’t got no history with nobody. We don’t beef with nobody. They don’t like us. We speak our mind, we put pressure on ‘em, we talk to ‘em. Some people ain’t built for it. They don’t like it, and I feel like that’s why teams always get in that match with us. But every time, we’re gonna stand on all 10, ride for our guys, gonna step. Whatever comes together... We’re brothers. We put in the work each and every day together. So anytime we’re out on that floor, we’re out there battling together. Anything else comes, we’re gonna do it together.”

While Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins was mum on the subject and praised the referees for how they handled the altercation, he said “it was competitive and we try to stand for our teammates.” Jenkins had a conversation with Brooks and kept the details private. 

On the Cavs end, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff didn’t appreciate what went down and didn’t think Mitchell deserved to get tossed from the game.

“If somebody makes a play like that, you should have the right to stand up for yourself. That was a cheap shot in multiple ways," Bickerstaff said. "You roll a guy's ankle and then obviously whatever was next out of there, a guy should have the right to stand up for himself. I thought Donovan did that. That's one thing, I'm proud of our guys; we don't have those guys that start sh**, but we got guys that don't run from sh**. You have to in this league, you have to stand up for yourself. That's what he did and that's why his teammates had his back."

“I mean, it was a dirty play from the other dude over there. Tried to hit him in his groin area,” Garland added. “So, [Donovan] just had to project himself. Guys protect themselves. We just rallied behind him and protected our team. That’s all it was. We’re no sissies over here. We’re not going for all the little cheap shots and stuff like that. Everybody's happy that Don did protect himself and everybody rallied behind him as well. So it was good team camaraderie right there.”

When asked to discuss Bickerstaff’s comments about opponents mistaking Cleveland’s kindness for weakness, Garland described the Cavs’ attitude in his eyes.

“We’re some nice young men until you try to do some weird stuff like the dude did over there. We’re still tough, though. We’re a tough group. We’ve got some guys that get after you and we’re going to fight back if you try to push us first,” Garland said. “We’re not soft or anything. We’re still some dogs, as I always say, and we’ll never back down from nobody, never lay down for nobody, especially those guys over there. We’re two of the top young teams in this league, so whenever we battle out, it’s going to be a tough one. And that goes for everybody else in this league, as well. We’re not going to lay down for nobody.”

Citing previous examples with others, Mitchell believes there should be some kind of punishment for Brooks’ actions.

“At the end of the day, I think my reaction was honestly just for me was reacting to a cheap shot. You know what I mean? This has been a habit for years and this isn't new to anybody in this room. And if punishment doesn't come from that, he’s just going to keep doing that. It’s just dumb, to be honest with you. Just dumb. It's just dumb and I'm going to appeal (the ejection) because I don't think I should've gotten ejected for defending myself, to be honest.

“I’m not going to say like, ‘Oh it should be this, it should be that.’ But it should be something. Like I said, this isn't just a Donovan thing. This has happened to other players throughout this league. And it's bullshit. If we're being honest with you, it's complete bullsh**. There's one thing, you’ve got Ja, you’ve got Bane, Jaren Jackson, those guys — they talk shit and that's fine. That's all part of basketball. We all grew up playing that way. But when you start doing little cheap sh** like that, that ain't it. That's honestly where my frustration lies. It's not about talking back and forth with us, that's whatever; the extra bumps, whatever, that's cool. But when you start doing little stuff like that, what are we really doing?”

The Cavs and Grizzlies ended up splitting the season series with two highly intense meetings. Both teams are fighting in their respective conferences and making plenty of noise. After Thursday, it’s clear that these squads are holding their ground.

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