Donovan Mitchell was playing out of his mind in the first four games of the second-round series between the Utah Jazz and L.A. Clippers. He averaged 37.3 points per game on 46% shooting from the field. He’d made riveting 3-pointer after riveting 3-pointer.
And he had done it all on a balky right ankle. But his injury hadn’t really adversely affected him in any of the first four games.
Until Game 5.
Mitchell struggled in Wednesday’s 119-111 loss to the Clippers, scoring 21 points on 6-of-19 shooting (4-of-14 from the 3-point line) and adding five assists, five rebounds and a steal in 38 minutes. His ankle clearly limited him. As the game went on, his running wasn’t very fluid and at times he was visibly limping.
And it doesn’t seem like there’s any chance of the ankle getting any better.
“It’s something I’m going to have to deal with,” Mitchell said. “It f---ing sucks. I have nothing else to say. It’s tough when you’re trying different things that you normally do and you see stops you get to but you can’t.”
Mitchell said he’s trying to figure out how to play through the discomfort. He seemed frustrated that he currently doesn’t have the ability to “push by, explode by and through people or over people.” He also said it’s a learning process, but is unhappy the lesson is happening during a playoff series.
“For the first time in my career, I’ve had to play on the floor,” Mitchell said. “Knowing when to attack, picking my spots, finding my teammates — I think that’s the biggest thing.”
In all, Mitchell still put together a gutsy performance despite his physical limitations. Mitchell’s 3-pointer with 4:05 left in the game was the team’s first in the second half. He made a difficult floater and drew a foul as well to keep the Jazz within striking distance.
But as the series shifts back to Los Angeles for a must-win Game 6 in less than 48 hours, Mitchell’s health will be an important story line. Mike Conley has missed all five games of the series and his return is still a big question mark, and the Jazz are clearly not wanting to rush him back if he’s not ready.
Bojan Bogdanovic said Mitchell tried to find his teammates for easy shots as a response to the Clippers double-teaming for most of the game. He praised Mitchell for playing through the injury.
“Big credit to Donovan that he is playing with the pain,” Bogdanovic said. “He’s trying to help us. It’s not easy to play that way.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder said one way to take pressure off Mitchell is to get out in transition more.
“When we get into the halfcourt, he’s carrying a huge load — not just trying to create offense for himself but for the group,” Snyder said. “They’ll continue to evaluate him and see where he as after tonight and continue to monitor that and make decisions going forward that obviously have Donovan’s best interest first and foremost in mind.”
But the Jazz need Donovan if they want any chance to come back from a 3-2 deficit in the series. And at least one of his teammates thinks there’s no way he will sit out.
“It’s better to have a Donovan that’s 90% than to have no Donovan at the end of the day,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said.