Having made the play that the Jazz wish would define forever their Western Conference semifinal series vs. Houston (but probably won’t), rookie guard Donovan Mitchell posted a photo of himself hanging on the rim after spectacularly rebounding and dunking his own missed shot in the Jazz’s Game 2 road victory.
Mitchell referenced a classic television sketch that requires some explanation — and it’s coming, I promise — in an expression of branding and self-promotion that was not exactly Stockton-esque. And then he went out and played easily his worst game of the playoffs as the Jazz were routed 113-92 in Friday’s Game 3 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
He took full accountability for his performance, saying, “I didn’t show up at all for my teammates, and I’ll fix it.”
The entire episode is part of a dizzying sequence of events that have characterized Mitchell’s first NBA postseason experience. He has mixed some phenomenal performances with other moments that remind everyone he’s a 21-year-old rookie who’s being asked to do too much for the Jazz in this series in the absence of point guard Ricky Rubio.
This is where life is easier for someone such as Joe Ingles. After hitting a 3-pointer on the Jazz’s first possession, Ingles went 1 of 9 the rest of the night following his career-high 27 points in Game 2. Yet Mitchell was by far the bigger story Friday, which comes with being a superstar in the making.
This guy has been something to watch through all of the good and bad stuff. Personality is a big part of his game, making him all the more embraceable to Jazz fans, even if this market historically is more accustomed to someone like John Stockton just doing his job and not bringing attention to himself.
Mitchell makes it fun, acknowledging that some of his amusing behavior reflects “the kid in me.”
So here’s the “Chapelle’s Show” reference: A character playing the musician Prince and his teammates come to play pickup basketball in costumes, making the opposing team label the other guys the “Blouses.” And when Prince dunks the ball emphatically, he declares, “Game. Blouses.”
That’s how Mitchell captioned his dunk, a signature play in the Jazz’s victory in Houston that temporarily tied the series. But then the Jazz started horribly in Game 3 as the Rockets reasserted themselves by gearing their defense to stop Mitchell and holding him to 1-of-10 shooting in the first half to build a 70-40 lead.
Game. Houston. And maybe series. Houston ... unless the Jazz figure out some solutions Sunday night.
“I can’t shoot terrible shots,” said Mitchell, who’s 19 of 59 from the field in the series. His 6-of-21 shooting in Game 2 was forgivable, considering his 11 assists, including four in a decisive stretch during the fourth quarter as the Jazz stormed ahead.
That sequence included his dunk, adding to a growing playoff legend that already included the rookie’s taking over Game 2 at Oklahoma City in the fourth quarter with his driving, scoring and passing and his 22-point third quarter in the close-out Game 6 vs. the Thunder.
But then came Game 3 against Houston after Mitchell had defended Philadelphia rookie Ben Simmons’ disappearance in the 76ers’ Game 2 loss at Boston. “It’s not as easy as some people make it look,” Mitchell said.
He unintentionally demonstrated that fact Friday, when Jazz coach Quin Snyder said his team “maybe thought that it might be easier than it was” after Game 2.
Rubio’s absence “puts a lot of pressure on Donovan’s shoulders,” teammate Rudy Gobert said. “It’s a great learning process for him. … I know he’s going to come back the next game and do amazing things.”
So now what? Having seemingly restored the franchise’s home-court aura vs. Oklahoma City, the Jazz lost it Friday and will have to get it back quickly. Not since 2000 have the Jazz won their last home game of the postseason, with the list of disappointing farewells including last May’s 121-95 loss to Golden State. The Jazz logically have to win Sunday to avoid a series-ending defeat Tuesday in Houston. If they win Game 4, they would assure themselves of a Game 6 at Vivint and potentially a Game 7 in Houston — all valuable experiences for Mitchell and his teammates.
Friday’s misadventure was part of the education. “Just got to accept it,” Mitchell said. “It happened.”
His response comes Sunday, one way or another.
Since beating Portland in Game 4 of the 2000 Western Conference semifinals, the Jazz have lost their last home game of every postseason appearance.
2001 • Dallas, first round
2002 • Sacramento, first round
2003 • Sacramento, first round
2007 • San Antonio, West finals
2008 • Los Angeles Lakers, West semifinals
2009 • Lakers, first round
2010 • Lakers, West semifinals
2012 • San Antonio, first round
2017 • Golden State, West semifinals