Utah’s point guard Donovan Mitchell and head coach Quin Snyder were mic’d up on the bench during Game 1 of the second-round matchup between the Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers.
It was a raw and candid moment between the coach and his star.
"This is where it’s at. You know what I’m saying?” Snyder said as Mitchell nodded. "You just keep getting your mind right and it overcomes everything, just like you’re doing. Okay? Let’s go. Do it on D and it’ll happen on O.”
The Clippers built a commanding 60-47 lead at halftime, and if the Jazz wanted to catch up, they needed their main guy. If they were going to make a comeback, they first had to win the third quarter. Mitchell rose to the moment and became the catalyst of the Jazz’s 112-109 victory. Rudy Gobert had the game-saving block but it was Spida who had one of his best I’m-going-to-put-this-team-on-my-back performances.
Mitchell scored 10 straight points in the blink of an eye to start the second half and tallied 16 in the third quarter. After the dust settled, his stat line read 45 points on 30 shots, six treys, and five assists. How instrumental was he in the last two quarters? He fired 32 points in 20 and a half minutes to will his team back.
It is no longer a question of whether or not Mitchell has “arrived." This isn’t his first go-around in the playoffs so this isn’t a matter of performing on the big stage. Remember his scoring duel with Jamal Murray in the bubble last year? We all know he can put the ball in the basket. He’s a bonafide star in the league and his performance in Game 1 was him living up to his billing.
"I let my team down in the first half on both ends of the floor. I let Reggie (Jackson) and Luke (Kennard) kinda get hot. They were kicking my ass a little bit,” Mitchell said postgame. "I wasn’t making the right reads in the first half. So I said, ‘You know what guys, it’s on me. At the end of the day, it’s on me. I had to go out there and set the tone.' And we did our thing.”
He knew it was on him, and he acknowledged his responsibility of rallying his team.
Mitchell put the Jazz in a position to succeed in the second half. One of the key traits of being a superstar is knowing when to turn it up. Another underrated attribute is admitting you didn’t play to the level that’s expected of you. Mitchell recognized that his team was shooting blanks (the Jazz missed 20 straight field goals for a prolonged stretch in the first quarter). He also knew that his quiet 13-point output at halftime wasn’t going to cut it.
"We gotta play hard. They’re a talented team. At the end of the day, we did some things wrong, they did some things wrong. We gotta go ahead and adjust,” Mitchell said. "They're talented. We gotta go out there and be ready to compete every single game, every single second.”
The Jazz were without lead guard Mike Conley so Mitchell carried most of the ball-handling and decision-making responsibilities. Joe Ingles, who started in place of Conley, did his best with seven assists though it came at a price as he only shot 3-for-12. Jordan Clarkson had 18 points but needed 18 attempts. With guard play in shambles, Mitchell took the reins. He knew what his team was lacking so he provided it, which again is what you expect from your go-to guy.
Mitchell continues to evolve as a player, a leader, and a star. With all eyes on him and his team needing an extra push in Game 1, he pressed all the right buttons. The 24-year-old owned the moment with the weight of his team on his shoulders.
“[We] can’t let our foot off the gas,” he said. "Credit to them they came out. It’s gonna be a dog fight in Game 2 and we got to be ready.”
Mitchell is the Jazz’s ace in the hole. He is the difference-maker. Where he goes, the Jazz go.