The conversation would have stayed private if not for the live mics that Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and coach Quin Snyder wore. Instead, the talk offered a window both into their relationship and the challenges that 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, okay? Let’s go!”
The two then shook hands. Moments later, Mitchell then played a crucial part in the Jazz’s 112-109 win over the Los Angeles 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 that, “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 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 Memphis 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. He’s not going to accept that.”
The Jazz and their fanbase remain haunted with former Chicago 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 that inspired the Jazz for how he played through the elements.
Donovan Mitchell (45) drives into Clippers guard Paul George drawing the foul in the first quarter of the Jazz’s Game 1 win.
“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 40-point playoff game. Though the Jazz lost to Denver in seven games after squandering a 3-1 first-round series lead last year in the bubble, Mitchell also had notable performances in a Game 1 loss (57 points), a Game 4 win (51) and a Game 6 loss (44).
Considering the win and his physical condition, where does Donovan 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,” Mitchell said. “We’re onto 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 half-time 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 still showed flashes in the first half that showed why he made his second consecutive All-Star appearance in his fourth season.
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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 through Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard and Clippers 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 3-pointer. Mitchell canned another 3 after Clippers forward Nicolas Batum tried to shut off his driving lane. Mitchell split through Jackson and Leonard on a pick-and-roll before weaving past Morris with an up-and-under move at the rim.
Mitchell pumped 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 court-side seat.
“We knew in the second half Donovan would come out aggressive,” Jazz 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.”
That explains why the Clippers could face trouble in this playoff series.
The Clippers might make adjustments on Mitchell on Game 2 on Thursday, or at least assign Leonard more assignments on him just like when he defended Mavericks guard Luka Doncic. Just like Doncic, Mitchell will likely keep scoring. After all, Mitchell (27.5 points per game) ranks only behind Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant (29.2) and Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James (28.7) as the highest active playoff scorers.
Unlike Doncic, Mitchell has a much stronger supporting cast. Even with the Jazz missing veteran guard Mike Conley in Game 1 and possibly beyond with right hamstring soreness, Utah still has other reliable players. Gobert is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate partly because of plays like blocking Morris’ potential game-tying 3-pointer with one second left. Jordan Clarkson (18 points) won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award because of his consistent scoring.
So while it seems likely Leonard (23 points on 9-of-19 shooting) and George (20 points on 4-of-17 shooting) will improve their efficiency, it seems likely Mitchell will maintain his efficiency. Throughout Game 1, Mitchell had ongoing conversations with Wade about his play. As Mitchell went 7-of-8 from the free-throw line, he followed advice from former teammate Kyle Korver about breathing heavily to feel relaxed before taking foul shots. And as the TNT telecast picked up, Mitchell also talked with Snyder.
“I don’t recall any specific watershed moment with anything. I just know how hard he’s competing,” Snyder said. “When you understand that about someone, you just want to encourage him to keep your focus. That’s all I was saying to him. He’s probably said [helpful things] to me more than I was saying to him.”
Either way, the dialogue helped spark Mitchell into having a dominant performance that set the tone in Game 1 and perhaps beyond.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell dominated in Game 1 victory over Clippers
Published: 2021-06-09 11:05:27
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