In the Jazz’s locker room Saturday night, after Donovan Mitchell had missed a wide-open look at a 3-pointer that could have sent Game 3 to overtime, forward Kyle Korver felt compelled to defend his young teammate, saying, in part, “I have never seen someone so young take ownership of a team, take ownership of his play, do it with charisma, do it with class. Never seen that in my 16 years in the NBA.”
At Sunday’s practice at Zions Bank Basketball campus, the veteran forward reiterated his support, noting the uniqueness of the second-year guard’s willingness to carry the burden of a franchise’s fortunes.
“It’s really easy to take ownership when things are going well,” Korver said. “You look across the NBA, and most of the young guys who are playing significant roles are on teams that aren’t very good. And there’s kind of a learning curve — usually it takes people a lot of years to figure out how to take ownership when it’s bad, when it’s hard; when the weight is heavy, it’s very hard to take ownership. It’s very rare that younger players can do that. He does it very well — he’s a good man.”
Asked why he felt the need to speak out on Mitchell’s behalf, Korver shrugged.
“I don’t know — that’s what I felt, I guess,” he added. “It felt like the right thing to say, it felt like truth.”
It was pointed commentary, considering the criticism Mitchell has taken for his performance in this series.
He’s averaging 21.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.7 assists, but is shooting just 32.8% from the field and 29.6% from deep. He also missed five free throws in Game 3, which many have pointed out could have made the difference.
Also on Saturday night, he made 5 of his first 7 shots, but only 4 of his last 20. The final miss, the one that could have saved the game and potentially the series, clearly weighed on Mitchell in his postgame news conference.
That said, none of his teammates was anything but supportive.
“Ten times out of 10, I want him to take that shot again,” said Royce O’Neale. “He just happened to miss it.”
O’Neale added that, with the Jazz struggling to shoot from outside this series, and the Rockets’ defense going above and beyond to make Mitchell work, and the results sometimes reflecting the difficulty of it all, the other Jazz were doing what they could to try and keep Mitchell’s spirits up.
“After Game 1, Game 2, knowing he was down on himself, we brought him back up, being young and one of the leaders on the team,” he said. “We gotta encourage him to bring the energy, don’t worry about a missed shot, keep playing, fight through everything.”
They certainly expect that of Mitchell on Monday.
The Jazz go into the matchup unable to ignore the fact that they’re one game from potential elimination, incapable of willfully ignoring the bigger picture treating Game 4 as its own self-contained entity, wholly independent of what’s occurred before.
But that’s when the best find a way to step up.
“No, it’s not possible — you know you’re down 3-0,” Korver conceded. “But what does that bring out of you? That’s the question. Does it bring out something good? Or does it bring in something else? I would like to think we’re going to bring something good. We’ll find out [Monday].”
All Times Mountain
Game 1 • Houston 122, Utah 90
Game 2 • Houston 118, Utah 98
Game 3 • Houston 104, Utah 101
Game 4 • Monday at Vivint Arena, 8:30 p.m.
TV: ATTSN, TNT
Game 5 • Wednesday at Houston, TBD*
Game 6 • April 26 at Vivint Arena, TBD*
Game 7 • April 28 at Houston, TBD*
* If necessary