Utah jazz star Donovan Mitchell writhed in pain on the Vivint Arena court 12 seconds before the end of Thursday’s second game against the LA Clippers and grabbed his right ankle, which he sprained a few weeks ago.
Mitchell got up after a few seconds, shot his free throws and ended the 117-111 victory, which gave the top-seeded Jazz a 2-0 lead in the semifinals of the Western Conference. He hobbled off the floor after the win, but Mitchell insisted his health was not a concern while the series headed to Los Angeles.
“I was hit and it hurt, but now I’m fine,” said Mitchell after his 37-point performance. “I got in here. If you want me to sprint for you, I can. I’m fine. You know, s — happened. Fortunately, it wasn’t bad.
Mitchell, who was a late scratch for Utah’s post-season opener with an ankle sprain that skipped him in the last 16 regular season games, has been one of the most dominant forces in the playoffs to date.
The Jazz start with Mitchell 6-0 this postseason, and he’s averaging 32.7 points per game, which puts him in a historically elite society. According to ESPN Stats & Information Research, Kobe Bryant in 2008 (34.3) and LeBron James in 2017 (34.2) are the only higher-scoring players to win their first six games of a postseason.
Mitchell was particularly productive against the Clippers, averaging 41.0 points on a 52.5% shot off the floor, while the Jazz opened the streak with two home wins despite the absence of All-Star Security Guard Mike Conley Jr. (thigh) .
“He’s taking a big step forward right now,” said Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson, the sixth Man of the Year, who had 24 points on the 9-of-15 shootout in Game 2. “He was a real superstar, MVP-caliber player. All-NBA guy. That’s his job and that’s what he does.”
After scoring 32 of his 45 points in the second half of Game 1, Mitchell lit the Clippers right after Thursday’s opening tip. He had 10 points in the first 3 minutes, 14 seconds when the Jazz made the Clippers pay to pick and roll them back to their big grid by attacking center Ivica Zubac. Mitchell finished half-time with 27 points.
After Utah’s lead rose to 21 points in the third quarter, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue found a way to disrupt Mitchell’s rhythm by going to a zone defense that cooled the jazz and brought LA back into play.
“I think we’re a bit stagnant and look to Donovan every time to play a game,” said jazz striker Joe Ingles, who had 19 points on the 7-out-of-10 shootout.
Mitchell played a supportive role in jazz putting an end to the Clippers, who rallied to take the lead after Reggie Jackson hit consecutive 3s in the middle of the fourth quarter. Ingles stared down the track, drove for a bullet shot that he put high over the glass to tie on the next possession, then dealt two assists and hit the Dagger 3 during the 9-0 winning run.
“I don’t feel like I have to go out there and do anything,” said Mitchell. “I think it’s an honor for my teammates, an honor for the guys we have on this team. You can go out and play games. … I don’t feel like I have to go up there, go up there, do anything. There are times when I have to do this. It’s only part of my job, but for me it’s great to have a group of people who trust you and whom you trust. You just go out there and play and have fun. “