Donovan Mitchell Has Arrived
Not many folks had the Jazz putting up much of a fight during Utah’s first-round clash with the Denver Nuggets. That has quickly changed.
After a close 135-125 overtime loss in Game 1, the Jazz bounced back with an immense 124-105 showing in Game 2. Utah next blew the doors off Denver in Game 3, winning big 124-87. Game 4 was even more spectacular - just ask Donovan Mitchell.
Mitchell has been the engine behind Utah’s surprising success. Game 4 saw Spida’s second 50-point game of the series. Mitchell finished with 51 points and seven assists, becoming the third player in NBA history to have two 50 point performances in a playoff series. The other players? Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson.
After struggling in last year’s playoffs with 21.4 points per game on 32 percent shooting, the stage was set for Mitchell to make an impact.
With Mike Conley missing the first two games for the Jazz with the birth of his and wife Mary’s third boy, and Bojan Bogdanović out for the season with a right-wrist injury, there was a large pressure on Mitchell to deliver offensively. So far, he’s done so with vigour, averaging in this series:
In Game 1, Mitchell posted a career-high 57 points on 19 of 33 shooting from the field, and 6 of 15 from deep. Adding in nine rebounds and seven assists, Spida was simply outstanding, and set the tone for his series to come.
Whether it was draining step back and pull-up three pointers, slithering his way to the rim past Denver defenders or finishing with deft touch on floaters and runners; the Nuggets had no answer for Mitchell.
Mitchell followed up that performance in Game 2 with a more measured and efficient 30 points on 10 of 14 shooting from the field and 6 of 7 from downtown, along with eight assists.
In Conley’s absence, Mitchell has thrived as the lead guard, picking his moments when to put the team on his back and look for his shot, but also when to get other teammates going.
Over the first two games of the series, the 23-year old averaged 62 percent from the field and 54 percent from three-point range. Mitchell's 57-point performance was the third-highest playoff scoring game in NBA history.
Even when Mitchell hasn’t gone supernova, he’s been exceptionally important for the Jazz. In Games 2 and 3 of the series, he was efficient and successful at sharing the scoring load. In Game 3, for example, Conley scored a game-high 27 points with seven threes.
Mitchell’s contrasting performances have showcased a growing maturity from a player who’s been criticized for inefficient scoring numbers and a single mindedness on the offensive end. While part of that assessment may be valid, Mitchell was forced into leading a team’s offense bereft of reliable shot creators and players who could take over a scoring load.
That’s why the Jazz front office made it a priority to add players like Bogdanović, Conley, and Jordan Clarkson. The team didn’t want Mitchell to have to do it all. Spida has shown this series that, if it comes to it, he can.
Mitchell knows that it can’t all be reliant on him to have monster scoring games. Game 2’s win was made possible by Joe Ingles’ 18 points, Rudy Gobert’s 18 points, and 26 points off the bench from Clarkson. Add in Royce O’Neale going three of four from deep for his nine points and Georges Niang’s seven points, the entire Jazz were clicking, finishing their night with 51.7 percent shooting from the field and going 20 of 44 from deep.
Mitchell was in the thick of it, though, and his passing game was on full display. When confronted by double teams like this play in the second quarter, he’s able to fire a bullet skip pass for a three-point make for Clarkson.
Again, Mitchell’s patience is on display in the third term. Confronted by yet another double team, he fires a nifty skip pass to O’Neale, for another Utah three.
How about this play? Mitchell gets past Torrey Craig (again), avoids Michael Porter Jr at the rim, and drops a ridiculous 360 pass out to Niang who, you guessed it, splashes another three.
Mitchell’s rhythm and feel at the moment is astronomically high, picking his moments to score but importantly when to trust his teammates. After Game 2, Mitchell explained how he had been working away at the latter.
“My first few years, I kind of saw the rim, being a scorer,” Mitchell said. “I’ve prided myself over quarantine in becoming a playmaker, finding ways to get the team involved.”
This change in attitude has shown in the numbers, with Mitchell’s assist percentage rising from 15 percent in last year’s playoffs to 35 percent in this series. So far he’s posted a 1.88 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Mitchell appears to be taking a leap this postseason. His awareness and feel for the game seems to grow by the quarter. After some disappointing growth in his first two seasons, the former Cardinal is starting to show that in-game IQ more.
For example, Mitchell has been much better at pacing himself. He waits until the second half to bury opponents. He averages 15.5 points in the third quarter this series, and 12.5 in the fourth. He’s seizing the moment to put his foot on the gas and really try to put away the Nuggets.
This was evident again down the stretch in Game 4, as Mitchell and Denver’s Jamaal Murray again went head-to-head, trading buckets. Spida scored 13 of Utah’s final 15 points for the game, hitting mid-range pull up jumpers, getting himself to the free-throw line and sticking this immense step-back three pointer over Paul Millsap.
Even in his post-game interview, the humility and professionalism shown by Mitchell was evident. Said Mitchell, “50 is what it is, but I’m more happy that I had seven assists.”
With a more assured, mature and confident Mitchell rising to the occasion of the playoffs, the Jazz are primed to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.
Despite Mitchell’s historic performance in Game 4, the 23-year old was right in downplaying his numbers and focusing on the task at hand.
“As good as this one feels, we won by two and we move on to Game 5”, Mitchell said.
With a precarious 3-1 lead, Mitchell’s rise to stardom will be heavily dependent on whether he and the Jazz can close out this series.