The Los Angeles Clippers should defiantly raise their hands in the air at this point. First they got seven full games of an almost unstoppable Luka Doncic, and now, in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, they are being dissected and demoralized by Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, who cemented his superstar status with his early post-season appearances.
Mitchell scored 37 points on 15-for-29 shooting, including 6-for-12 from 3-point range in a 117-112 Game 2 win over the Clippers on Thursday to give the Jazz a 2-0 series lead. He now averages 41 points on 53/44/80 splits against the Clippers, and has scored more points than minutes played in six games this post-season.
The most devastating thing about Mitchell’s handling of business on Thursday was that the Clippers were doing their job. With each superstar player, you switch up your appearance, switch primary defenders and live with the results. The problem is, the results for Mitchell were overwhelmingly in Utah’s favour. Here’s a quick look at all the ways Mitchell took advantage of various Clippers defenses throughout the night.
Mitchell admitted he came out with a goalscorer mentality after racking up just six points in the first quarter of Game 1 on 2-for-8 shooting.
“I think that was my mindset to move forward and start the game strong,” Mitchell said afterwards. “I think my poor performance in the first half [of Game 1] on both ends of the floor was huge for them going out and they came, what, we came down 13 where it was a tough battle the whole game. So for me it’s like, okay, I’m going to make my mark and I think tonight I managed to score.”
You could see Mitchell’s aggressiveness early on, but it was strategic. At his first basket of the game, Mitchell pretends to use a screen from Rudy Gobert, but when he sees Marcus Morris in assist position, he crosses quickly, creating a wide open jumper for the drop Ivica Zubac.
Later in the quarter, Mitchell gets a half screen of… Bojan Bogdanovic only to force a transfer, but Marcus Morris is a split second too late to step down. Mitchell slides through the gap between Morris and Paul George and steps into the track, where he is one of the best finishers in the world.
Mitchell finished the first quarter with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, but the attack continued from there. Watch here how Mitchell shows absolute mastery of pick-and-roll, keeping Kawhi Leonard on his back as he slowly makes his way to Zubac, forcing the big man to choose between defending him and the rolling Derrick favors. The patience and shrewdness Mitchell shows here to get a lay-up is second to none.
By the end of the first half, Mitchell was feeling so bad that he was able to make unstoppable shots like this in isolation. He went into the locker room at halftime with 27 points on 11-for-16 shooting in under 20 minutes.
Naturally, the Clippers started blitzing Mitchell in the third quarter to get the ball out of his hands. Here he showed his growth as a playmaker, able to read and execute the correct pass to put his team in a position to score. Here he patiently navigates the double team (which becomes a triple team) and finds a wide open Gobert for a dunk.
Then, when the Clippers send Leonard late in the shot clock to double down on Mitchell, he reads the defense and fires a perfect cross-court pass to Bogdanovic, who works his way into an open 3. Three of Mitchell’s four assists came in the second half.
“Being in the league, I know it’s only been four years, but you see everything. I’ve seen all the coverage,” Mitchell said after the game. “It’s just a matter of me making the right reads. … I kind of knew that if they came into play, they’d have different looks, and they’ll probably do the same thing again in Game 3, so I just have to be ready and watch the movie and do what I instinctively do.”
The zone defense gave Mitchell some trouble in the second half as the Clippers made their comeback, but when it came down to the Jazz needing a basket, Mitchell sought a switch to Luke Kennard and went to work, making a difficult clutch shot to take the game out of reach.
If Mitchell starts playing at this level, the Jazz will wreak havoc on the opponents’ defenses and perhaps find themselves in the NBA Final. His performances so far this post-season, combined with what we’ve already seen in his fledgling career, make Mitchell a superstar of the rarest kind — one who takes his game to the next level when it matters most.
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“Our guys know who he is, and he knows who he is, and I think the most important thing Donovan has done is, frankly, just competition,” jazz coach Quin Snyder said after Game 2. “That’s something he does every night. He just wants to win and he competes, and then good things happen.”