Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell writhed in pain on the Vivint Arena pitch with 12 seconds left in Thursday’s Game 2 against the LA Clippers, reached for the right ankle that he had sprained several weeks ago.
Mitchell got up after a few seconds, shot his free throws and made the 117-111 victory that gave the best-seeded Jazz a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals. He limped off the floor after the win, but Mitchell insisted his health was not an issue when the series headed to Los Angeles.
“I was hit and it hurt, but I’m fine now,” Mitchell said after his 37-point performance. “I walked in here. If you want me to sprint for you, I can. I’m good. You know, s— happens. Luckily it wasn’t bad. Move on and get ready for Game 3.”
Mitchell, who was a late scratch for Utah’s postseason opener due to the ankle sprain that sidelined him for the last 16 games of the regular season, has been one of the playoffs’ most dominant forces so far.
The Jazz are 6-0 with Mitchell in the starting lineup this post-season, and he averages 32.7 points per game, making him an elite company historically. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Kobe Bryant in 2008 (34.3) are the only players with higher scoring averages while winning their first six games of a postseason. LeBron James in 2017 (34.2).
Mitchell was particularly prolific against the Clippers, averaging 41.0 points on 52.5% shooting from the floor, while the Jazz opened the series with two home wins despite the absence of fellow All-Star guards Mike Conley Jr. (hamstring).
“He’s just taking a big step,” said Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson, the sixth man of the year to have 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting in Game 2. “He’s been a real superstar, MVP-caliber player, All-NBA-type. That’s his job, and that’s what he does .”
After scoring 32 of his 45 runs in the bottom half of Game 1, Mitchell set fire to the Clippers right after Thursday’s opening tip. He had 10 points in the first 3 minutes 14 seconds when the Jazz fined the Clippers for returning to their big grid through the attacking center Ivica Zubac in the pick and roll. Mitchell finished the half with 27 points.
After Utah’s lead rose to 21 points in the third quarter, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue found a way to disrupt Mitchell’s rhythm.
“I think we kind of got into it, looking at Donovan every time to make a play,” said Jazz forward Joe Ingles, who had 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Mitchell played a supporting role as the Jazz took out the Clippers, who rallied to take the lead afterwards Reggie Jackson hit back-to-back 3s in the middle of the fourth quarter. Ingles shone across the piece, driving for a first shot that he held high off the glass to tie it on next possession, then handed out two assists and hit the dagger 3 on the winning 9-0 run.
“I don’t feel like I have to go out and do everything,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s an honor for my teammates, an honor for the guys we have on this team. They can go out and play. … I don’t feel like I have to go there, have to take it up walk, do anything. There are times when I’ll have to do that. That’s just part of my job, but for me, it’s great to have a group of guys who trust you and trust you. You just go out and play and have fun.”