It seems a cruel joke of the universe that on the same day the Utah Jazz gained Dwyane Wade, they may have lost Donovan Mitchell.
The All-Star guard left the Jazz’s 119-111 Friday matinee victory over the Pacers for good in the third quarter with what was initially diagnosed as a sprained ankle, though the severity of the injury has yet to be fully determined.
The Jazz announced that Mitchell was set to undergo an MRI later Friday night.
“We hope that it’s nothing serious, but they’re in the process of doing everything they can do to assess that,” coach Quin Snyder said after the game.
Mitchell had the option of addressing the media, and initially told the Jazz PR staff that he wanted to do so. However, as his postgame treatment dragged on, he changed his mind.
Nevertheless, teammate Rudy Gobert said he got a chance to speak with Mitchell briefly after the game in the locker room, and that “he was in great spirits, so hopefully we can get him back soon.”
On a third-quarter scramble play, with about 8 minutes, 30 seconds left in the period, both Mitchell and Pacers small forward Edmond Sumner tried to track down a loose ball. Sumner got to it first, and Mitchell leapt in an attempt to deflect the ensuing outlet pass. The force of Sumner’s throw, however, caused him to rotate his body awkwardly and go off-balance. And as Mitchell came down for a landing, Sumner bizarrely sunk to the court and leg-whipped into Mitchell’s ankle.
The Jazz guard immediate collapsed to the court, and he dragged himself over to the sideline area right in front of Indiana’s bench.
Several Pacers players and personnel in the bench area leaned in to check on him. Once the play on the court stopped, Mitchell collapsed into teammate Royce O’Neale’s arms, as he was unable to put any weight on his leg.
Mitchell was eventually helped off the court and into the locker room by a pair of teammates.
Bojan Bogdanovic said he didn’t see the play unfold live, but after watching it on replay postgame, he found himself somewhere between confused and angry.
“I don’t know what to say. I hope it was not intentional,” he said. “That’s all I’ve got to say about his injury.”
Mike Conley intimated that Mitchell was perhaps less-than-pleased with how the play unfolded, also.
“Obviously he’s frustrated with the injury and how it happened, and all that,” Conley said.
Still, on Friday, the Jazz managed just fine without him — quickly erasing the nine-point deficit they trailed by at the time when Mitchell went down thanks to an energized defensive effort that saw them limit the Pacers to just 42 points after halftime.
They said it was a matter of simply realizing that he wasn’t coming back to rescue them, and they’d have to help themselves.
“We knew that seeing him limp off, it wasn’t good, and that he probably wasn’t coming back this game, or he might be out for a little bit,” Conley said. “At that point, our team kind of got together and just said, ‘Hey, this is part of the game, this is what we have to do, this is what’s in front of us — guys, you have to step up.’”
Point-of-attack defense improved. Gobert (13 points, 23 rebounds, four blocks) took over the paint, emphatically rejecting fellow All-Star Domantas Sabonis at one point, and enabling Joe Ingles to take advantage of the ensuing 5-on-4 by draining a wide-open 3.
Still, while this win was a nice one to have, the bigger story is now how the Jazz will fare without Mitchell — and how long they have to be without him, with only four weeks remaining in the regular season.
Gobert said the initial reaction was to pause for a moment before realizing that you have to quickly refocus.
Bogdanovic added that while overcoming any potential Mitchell absence won’t be easy, the formula, at least will be simple.
“I don’t know how long he’s going to be out or how bad his ankle is right now. But of course, it is going to be a different situation right now if he doesn’t play,” he said. “But we’ve got to play our defense, and we’re going to have a chance against anybody in the league.”
Snyder tied to bring a pragmatic approach to it all, equating the coming absence of the team’s scoring leader to the game’s they’ve played without any other player this season.
“Obviously, Donovan is such a big part of what we do. Like any player that’s out, you miss him, but you try to figure out ways to play well and win regardless of who’s available, because those things are going to happen and we have to be prepared for that regardless of who it is,” Snyder said. “Obviously, Donovan, as I said, is a big, big part of what we do. But that’s where guys got to come together and try to figure it out.”
Conley, meanwhile, simply felt bad for his teammate, knowing that he was experiencing a potentially significant injury for the first time.
That said, he liked what Mitchell showed him in the aftermath of Friday’s win.
“He’s the ultimate teammate. He was just rooting for us, and he’s making jokes, so, you know, he’s still the same old Don,” said Conley. “I think he’ll be fine — just another little obstacle in the way, and he’ll take that challenge and be back before we know it.”