Oklahoma City • In the playoffs, the fourth quarter grants no room for pain.
Neither, apparently, does Donovan Mitchell.
After a toe injury in Game 1, Mitchell wasn’t cleared to play until an hour before Wednesday night’s tip against Oklahoma City. On his first basket came an ill omen when he opted for a layup on a breakaway instead of one of his signature dunks.
But the second half is when Mitchell — the dazzling guard the Utah Jazz no longer see as a rookie — has come alive this season. And he did so again against the Thunder in Game 2 of their first-round series, lighting them up for a game-high 28 points for a 102-95 win in the biggest game of his young career ... so far.
“So far” implies more to come, and with the Jazz even with Oklahoma City at one game apiece, there’s at least three left to Utah’s — and Mitchell’s — surprising season.
“If he was feeling something, he didn’t show it,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of Mitchell. “When he really got aggressive going to the rim, some other things opened up.”
A lot more than Mitchell went right for the Jazz: When Rudy Gobert sat early with foul trouble, Derrick Favors morphed into a relentless rebounder and putback finisher, ending up with 20 points and 16 rebounds (both career playoff bests). Ricky Rubio played a more efficient game than in Game 1, sinking five 3-pointers and finishing with 22 points to go with nine assists and seven rebounds. Gobert also contributed in a surprising way by making his final five free throws, having struggled up to that point.
But Utah would not have won without Mitchell, who spun past the likes of Paul George for layups and sunk long floaters over Steven Adams. He had 20 points in the second half, helping the Jazz overcome a 19-0 Thunder run in the third quarter.
On five straight possessions, the Jazz gave up turnovers, taking only one shot — which was blocked — during a six-minute stretch. The Thunder pounced, as Russell Westbrook, George and Carmelo Anthony all scored baskets, stirring the sellout crowd into a frenzy.
Mitchell stopped the rally with a pair of free throws in the final minute of the third quarter, then scored a pair of baskets at the rim — proving he had some pop despite his injured toe.
He escalated his game even more in the fourth quarter, choosing to drive rather than pull up for 3-pointers (where he was 0 for 7). It netted 13 points total, including six in the final five minutes as they held a single-digit lead.
When Mitchell was asked after the game if his toe bothered him, Rubio turned to him with a playful warning: “If you say ‘yes’ when you got 28 …”
The greater enemy, Mitchell said, was complacency.
“There was just a point where I stopped being aggressive, The big thing with Rudy, he let me know I went 0 for 7 from three, and I’m letting guys off the hook. I gotta keep applying pressure and getting to the rim.”
The performance put Mitchell at 55 total points in the series, the most points by rookie guard ever in his first two playoff games, according to ESPN. The previous record-holder: Michael Jordan.
One startling factor was none of the Thunder’s Big Three of Westbrook, George or Anthony matched Mitchell’s crunch-time stardom.
While George took center stage in Game 1 with his “Playoff P” persona, the alphabet dried up as the three most prominent Thunder players finished 19 for 58 from the field. None of them reached the 20-point mark on a night when Mitchell, Rubio and Favors each did. None of them made a shot in the fourth quarter.
The biggest threat late was Steven Adams, who rallied in the fourth with three buckets. But after Gobert drove to the rim on him with 2:48 remaining, Adams fouled out, giving the Jazz a chance to grab five of the last seven rebounds of the game.
The win gave Utah the most hope it has enjoyed since losing home-court advantage on the last day of the regular season. The Jazz get a chance to gain the advantage in the series on the Thunder with two games at Vivint Smart Home Arena, where they are 28-13 this season.
For the Jazz, there are a few days to recover before Game 3 on Saturday. But coming back from taking a punch in Game 1 — that felt good. And while Mitchell spurred the offense late, the Jazz chalked up the win to their unified play.
“Tonight’s just one of those nights you saw how connected we were,” Mitchell said. “I just think the way we bounced back and responded as a unit … everyone’s engaged and kind of giving information. And that’s the kind of connectivity coach is talking about.”