Will Donovan Mitchell’s hamstring keep him out of Game 6? That’s just one issue that will decide the Utah Jazz’s playoff fate

After Monday’s blowout in Dallas, the Jazz’s ability to fend off elimination by the Mavericks could well come down to the team showing more urgency, and its star overcoming a hamstring injury.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell walks up court during Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, Monday, April 25, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

All those good vibes from the Utah Jazz’s miraculous, season-saving Game 4 victory Saturday in Salt Lake City? Gone.

Buried under a pile of bricks.

There were certainly enough of those to go around in Monday’s Game 5 annihilation in Dallas, where the Jazz set NBA postseason and franchise records for 3-point futility.

Now, Utah faces elimination, and the prospect of having to win back-to-back games against a Mavericks team that’s mostly made their lives difficult, just to get out of the first round of the playoffs.

Is there any hope for Thursday’s Game 6 at Vivint Arena? Or is a tumultuous, uneven season about to meet a merciful end?

Some of that will depend on the health of star guard Donovan Mitchell.

After an undeniably awful performance, in which he scored nine points on 4-for-15 shooting, including 0 of 7 from 3-point range, he hobbled off the court and to the locker room with 4:41 remaining, clutching his left hamstring.

“I went up to try and finish and it just tightened up on me,” he explained afterward. “I couldn’t run back on defense, so I had to come out.”

He said he’d never felt such a sensation before. The team announced postgame that he would undergo evaluation on Tuesday in Salt Lake City, and he subsequently confirmed he was slated for an MRI.

When asked about his concern level for Game 6, he put his game face on and claimed: “I’ll be fine.”

Upon a follow-up query about whether he expected to have to battle pain in the coming days, he replied, “Probably. But this is the playoffs, so I gotta find a way. We’ll see how I feel. I’m a competitor.”

It’s safe to say his status is up in the air.

Of course, even if he does play, and is at full strength, the Jazz will need a far superior performance from him.

Then again, that’s true of almost everybody.

First of all, there’s the eye-popping futility in shot-making.

Aside from Rudy Gobert (6 of 7) and Jordan Clarkson (9 of 15), the Jazz weren’t hitting much of anything from anywhere Monday, as evidenced by their 29-for-77 performance from the field (37.7%).

But they were historically bad from beyond the arc, where they made just 3 of 30 attempts.

Per ESPN Stats & Info, that 10% success rate was both the worst 3-point percentage in NBA postseason history (minimum 25 attempts) and also the worst 3-point field-goal percentage in all of Utah Jazz history (minimum 20 attempts).

“I don’t think we shoot this poorly — I don’t think we’ve ever shot this poorly as a group,” Mitchell said. “So we’ll bounce back and go from there.”

He pretty much chalked up most of those misses to shots simply not going in.

He also was pretty much alone in that sentiment.

His coach and teammates, meanwhile, went looking for underlying reasons behind the headline-worthy shooting numbers.

It didn’t take them long to find one.

“I don’t want to just point to [it was a] ‘bad shooting night,’” said coach Quin Snyder “… Sometimes things come right away, easy in a possession, and they’re good looks and you take them, but there’s other times that require more. … Continuous movement and spacing and attacking and passing is what we need to have success against this team.”

Bojan Bogdanovic, who went 0 for 9 overall and 0 for 5 from 3, agreed.

“We are just taking bad shots, and they are playing really, really great and active defense,” he said. “… We’ve got to do a better job moving the ball and playing the right way.”

That lack of ball movement was, indeed, problematic throughout Game 5.

Even as the Jazz shot 6 for 20 in the first quarter, only one of those baskets was assisted. They had just four assists by halftime — two apiece from Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson. They would finish with more turnovers (13) than assists (12) for the game.

Snyder lamented in the aftermath the team’s isolation-heavy approach, their tendency to run a single action, then to settle for a difficult (or at least not great) look.

If Utah is to have any chance, its players must bring a more symbiotic approach.

“We did miss shots, but we need to try and create for one another,” the coach said. “There were a couple stretches in the game where you saw that happen. With our whole group, our strength has been our versatility, the fact that we have multiple weapons. And we have to be able to use that. It’s extreme tonight, but it’s some of the same things we’ve talked about previously. … We need each other — we need to play like that offensively.”

Gobert was more succinct.

When we move the ball, when we do that, good things happen,” he said.

Mitchell did ultimately concur with the sentiment, as he perused a boxscore printout.

“We’ve got to continue to move the ball,” he said. “I had one assist and four turnovers. I’ve got to make sure I’m creating and finding guys.”

Still, the Jazz’s chances hinge upon more than making some extra passes and hitting some extra shots (though those are certainly good places to start).

While the overall defensive effort was not bad, as Dallas shot just 43.5% from the field, and 12 of 43 (27.9%) from deep — “Defensively, we were good again,” Bogdanovic proclaimed — they were sliced and diced and ultimately decimated by the individual brilliance of Luka Doncic.

In just his second game back from a left calf strain that sidelined him for 13 days, his singular third-quarter scoring output matched all of the Jazz’s (19 points), and he cruised to a 33-point, 13-rebound, five-assist cakewalk.

“There aren’t a lot of things that you can point to tonight that we did well, as far as defending him,” said Snyder.

There weren’t a lot of things they did well in a lot of areas.

Perhaps most egregiously, though, was the latest decline in energy and effort.

Bogdanovic spoke after Game 4 about being incensed with the team’s half-speed approach to their prior outing, and how it probably cost them a shot at a victory in Game 3. He was determined, he said, not to let that happen again.

The team’s resolve in that department was apparently not long-term.

“They had us on our heels — just a half-step late getting back in transition, and then a half-step late on a closeout, and then a half-step late and we give up an offensive rebound and there’s a basket,” said Snyder. “And suddenly, if there’s enough of those possessions, this is where it goes.”

Gobert was more succinct once more.

“We didn’t really respond to their intensity,” he said.

Which is a most confounding problem to have five games into a playoff series.

The Jazz will need to address that in Thursday’s Game 6.

Or else there won’t even be a Game 7, let alone anything after.