USA TODAY US Edition
Mitchell’s dominance sweet music for winning Jazz
The conversation would have stayed private if not for the live mics that Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and coach Quin Snyder wore. Instead, the talk offered a window both into their relationship and the challenges Mitchell faced in a pivotal playoff game.
“You just keep getting your mind right, and it overcomes everything,” Snyder told Mitchell. “Just like you’re doing, OK? Let’s go!”
The two then shook hands. Moments later, Mitchell played a crucial part in Utah’s 112-109 win over the Clippers on Tuesday in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. He finished with 45 points while shooting 16 of 30 from the field and 6 of 15 from 3-point range. This happened after scoring only 13 first-half points on a 5 of 14 clip.
So when he entered the locker room at halftime, Mitchell recalled announcing aloud, “I’m going to have to find a way.” But when he spoke with Snyder before the start of the third quarter, they touched on something heavier than just X’s and O’s. After nursing a right ankle injury that sidelined him for the final 16 regular-season games and a Game 1 first-round loss to the Grizzlies, Mitchell dealt with a new ailment.
“I don’t think he was feeling great tonight,” Snyder said. “His ankle was fine.
But he wasn’t feeling great physically. He was a little nauseous and a little lightheaded.”
The Jazz and their fan base remain haunted with Bulls star Michael Jordan thriving in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals in what became known as the “flu game.” As “The Last Dance” documentary revealed last year, it should have actually been called “the food poisoning
game.” Nearly 24 years later, Mitchell became the star player who inspired the Jazz for how he played through the elements.
“I was definitely feeling it a little bit,” Mitchell said. “But sometimes you have to dig deep into a different place. I was getting my ass kicked individually the first half on both ends of the floor. I wasn’t making the right reads.”
Mitchell finished with his fourth 40point playoff game.
Considering the win and his physical condition, where does Mitchell rank his latest performance? “This was good in my opinion. But at the end of the day, I’m at the point where it doesn’t matter anymore,” he said. “We’re on to Game 2. I’m happy I was able to control the pace. That’s something I really tried to make strides in throughout my career. It’s about being efficient.”
So much that Mitchell criticized himself for not collecting more rebounds (three) and assists (three) as well as committing a turnover with only 45 seconds left while nursing a six-point lead.
“Where do I put it as far as (other) games? I don’t really know,” Mitchell said. “At the end of the day, I got to do this three more times.”
Mitchell did it at least once after overcoming a tough first half. The Clippers nursed a 60-47 halftime lead partly because the Jazz missed 21 consecutive shots. Some of those clanks came from Mitchell, who blamed some of those misses on “getting lazy and letting fatigue get the best of me.” The same reason why Clippers role players Luke Kennard and Reggie Jackson hit shots while Mitchell defended him.
In fairness, Mitchell showed flashes in the first half that showed why he made his second consecutive All-Star Game appearance in his fourth season.
On the first play of the game, Mitchell set up Joe Ingles for an open 3-pointer before reversing roles on the next play. Mitchell drove between Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard and center Marcus Morris Sr. at the rim on another play. Those moments did not happen as often as Mitchell liked, though.
“There’s nothing that he’s going to let get in the way of that focus,” Snyder said. “He’s also made adjustments throughout the course of the game. He’s a smart player. He studies. So when he’s doing something that maybe isn’t as productive, he’s able to make subtle adjustments.”
Hence, Mitchell’s second-half performance. Mitchell opened the third quarter going up court, accelerating past Clippers forward Paul George and finishing at the basket. Mitchell threw Jackson off balance for a wide-open 3pointer. Mitchell canned another 3 after Clippers forward Nicolas Batum tried to shut off his driving lane. Mitchell split between Jackson and Leonard on a pick-and-roll before weaving past Morris with an up-and-under move at the rim.
Mitchell pump-faked Clippers center Ivica Zubac before making a jumper. Mitchell did not appear afraid of absorbing Batum’s contact before drawing a foul at the basket. When Leonard stopped Mitchell at the point, he zipped the ball to a wide open Bojan Bogdanovic for a 3-pointer at the top of the key, which prompted Jazz minority owner and former NBA player Dwyane Wade to leap out of his courtside seat.
“We knew in the second half Donovan would come out aggressive,” center Rudy Gobert said. “He obviously gave us a great lift. He was not settling for the jump shots, but attacking them and putting pressure on them for finishing at the rim, drawing fouls or kicking out to the shooters. When we play that way, that’s when we are really hard to guard.”
The dialogue helped spark Mitchell into having a dominant performance that set the tone in Game 1 and perhaps beyond.