Tuesday night’s 45-point outburst enabled Donovan Mitchell to tie Karl Malone for the most 40-plus-point games in Utah Jazz playoff history, with four.
The Mailman accomplished the feat in 193 career postseason games with the organization.
Mitchell pulled it off in 28.
OK, the caveat and asterisk first — different eras and all, with increased scoring now and a far greater emphasis on the 3-ball. Fair enough.
Still, there’s no denying that Mitchell, in his four brief years in the league, has already established himself as something far beyond a merely reliable postseason performer: 28.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 37.6% from 3?
He’s already something unique.
“He’s always locked in, he’s always being aggressive. Even when he has games where he’s not having a big scoring output, he’s always finding people, he’s always trying to make plays for guys,” said veteran big man Derrick Favors. “He’s still improving defensively. He’s vocal in the locker room, in the huddles. He’s just a special talent. And every game, he always does something special. That’s just the type of player that he is.”
Coach Quin Snyder explained that Mitchell possess another quality that makes him unique and sets him up for success.
“He’s not afraid to fail,” Snyder said. “He’ll take the next shot. We want him to take open looks. If he misses a few of them, you know, they’re good shots. Keep taking them, and keep attacking. That’s who he is.”
What’s more, Mitchell knows exactly where he failed in certain respects of his Game 1 performance against the Clippers.
Even as he was asked question after question about his attacking mentality, about his poise, his seemingly effortless ability to take over, he kept returning to one constant theme:
“There’s things I definitely can can be better at,” Mitchell said multiple times.
The 45 points he totaled — and the 32 he pored in post-halftime — were crucial, yes, “but I could’ve easily had eight or nine, even 10 assists. Could have had some rebounds that could have definitely changed the game, too.”
His willingness to have the ball in his hands in high-leverage situations, with the game on the line? Illustrative of a clutch mentality. But …
“I had a terrible turnover with 49 seconds left at halfcourt,” Mitchell pointed out. “Stupid pass.”
As good a game as he had, the errors and the miscues bother him. He takes the wide-angle view that maybe if he cuts down on a few of those then perhaps he doesn’t need to have a 30-point half, or maybe the game doesn’t come down the final possession.
“I didn’t do a lot of things right for my team in the first half, and it really kind of ate at me. It still does,” he said. “I put my team in a certain position, and I feel like that was on me to come out there and set the tone on both ends of the floor.”
JAZZ-CLIPPERS SERIES SCHEDULE
Game 1 • Jazz 112, Clippers 109
Game 2 • Thursday, 8 p.m. MT, at Utah, ESPN
Game 3 • Saturday, 6:30 p.m. MT, at Los Angeles, ABC
Game 4 • June 14, 8 p.m. MT, at Los Angeles, TNT
Game 5* • June 16, time TBD, at Utah, TNT
Game 6* • June 18, time TBD, at Los Angeles, ESPN
Game 7* • June 20, time TBD, at Utah, TV TBD
* — if necessary
The flip side to that, of course, is that Mitchell did so much right — including utilizing every resource available to him.
The televised broadcast made it a point to highlight Mitchell’s conversations during the game with Jazz part-owner Dwyane Wade, a legendary ex-hooper in his own right and a personal mentor to Mitchell.
“I continuously ask him what he sees. I know what I see, but sometimes you have a different perspective, especially sitting on the floor like that, like being able to see what he sees in his mind,” Mitchell said. “You know, it’s great to have your coaching staff and your [teammates], and then you have a guy like Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade to be like, ‘What do you see? How can I be more efficient?’”
As for those few Jazz fans out there wondering about the mixed messages possibly inherent in Mitchell receiving in-game instruction from Wade as opposed to the opposite sideline (where the coaches sit), well, turns out that’s imagining a problem where there isn’t one.
Wade said on ESPN’s “The Jump” on Wednesday afternoon that he got Snyder’s blessing to disseminate in-game advice.
Snyder said in Wednesday’s media session that not only is he happy that Mitchell has an additional trusted voice to turn to, but that he seeks out Wade’s counsel himself from time to time.
“I’ve asked him to weigh in on some things for me personally — we’ve had a number of text exchanges. I try not to wear him out because he’s a busy guy. But it’s been really great for me personally to be able to use him as a resource,” Snyder said. “… To have someone like that, that has the level of experience, the intelligence, the feel that he has for the game, and particularly for the playoffs, is a resource that I think is really unique.”
So no. Snyder doesn’t at all mind his star guard and the Jazz’s newest ownership group member chatting, even in the middle of a postseason game.
“I love it. I don’t ask a lot of questions about what they’re talking about; I trust that we’re all on the same page,” he said. “And there’s probably things that Dwyane’s capable of giving him that I’m not, which I think is a positive thing, that he’s getting that information from someone that truly cares about him and that Donovan really respects. He’s got great feel for that, Donovan’s got great feel for that. I think it’s great.”
The Jazz will undoubtedly require more of Mitchell’s heroics going forward — more scoring spurts to end their offensive lulls, more huge baskets in late-clock situations, more capacity to go bucket-for-bucket with the other high-powered scoring weapons in the league.
But then, that’s another piece of what drives Mitchell. With Game 1 over, he wasn’t reflecting on what he’d just done. He’d already moved on to what comes next.
“Where do I put it as far as [great career] games? I don’t really know,” Mitchell said. “At the end of the day, I know that I’ve got to do it three more times, and we’ve got to win three more games.”