The Los Angeles Clippers must defiantly throw their hands up in disbelief at this point. First, they were given seven full games by an almost unstoppable Luka Doncic, and now, in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, they are being dissected and demoralized by Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, who has cemented his superstar status with his early performances after season.
Mitchell scored 37 points on 15-to-29 shooting, including 6-for-12 from 3-point range in a 117-112 Game 2 victory over the Clippers on Thursday to give the Jazz a 2-0 series lead. He now has an average of 41 points on the 53/44/80 split against the Clippers, and has scored more points than minutes played in six games this season.
The most devastating part of the way Mitchell handled his business on Thursday was that the Clippers did their job. With any superstar player, you mix your looks, change primary defenders and live with the results. The problem is that the results for Mitchell have been overwhelming in Utah’s favor. Here’s a quick look at all the ways Mitchell quoted on various Clippers defenses throughout the night.
Mitchell admitted he came out with a scorer mentality after putting just six points on 2-of-8 shooting in the first quarter of Game 1.
“I think tonight was my mindset going forward, the game started strong,” Mitchell said afterwards. “I think my poor performance in the first half [of Game 1] at both ends of the floor it was huge for them to go out there and they get what we came down 13 where it was an upward battle the whole game. So for me, it’s like, OK, I want to make my mark, and I think tonight was through scoring. “
You could see Mitchell’s aggressiveness early on, but it was strategic. On his first basket of the game, Mitchell fails, as if he wants to use a screen from Rudy Gobert, but when he sees Marcus Morris in assist position, he crosses quickly and creates a wide-open jumper in front of the falling Ivica Zubac.
Later in the quarter, Mitchell gets a half screen from Bojan Bogdanovic just to force a switch, but Marcus Morris is a split-second late to step up. Mitchell slides through g between Morris and Paul George and enters the field where he is one of the best finishers in the world.
Mitchell finished the first quarter with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, but the attack continued from there. Watch here as Mitchell shows absolute mastery of pick-and-roll, keeping Kawhi Leonard on his back as he slowly takes on Zubac, forcing the big man to choose between defending him and the rolling Derrick Favors. The patience and the clever Mitchell shows here to get a layup is second to none.
At the end of the first half, Mitchell felt it so much that he was able to make unprotected shots like this in isolation. He walked into the locker room at the break with 27 points on 11-to-16 shooting in less than 20 minutes.
Of course, the Clippers started flashing Mitchell in the third quarter to get the ball out of their hands. This is where he showed his growth as a playmaker, able to get the right reading and perform the pass to get his team able to score. Here he patiently navigates the double team (which becomes a triple team) and finds a wide-open Gobert for a dunk.
Then, when the Clippers send Leonard to double Mitchell late on the shot, he reads the defense and shoots a perfect pass across the field to Bogdanovic, who pumps himself into an open 3. Three of Mitchell’s four assists came in the second half.
“Being in the league, I know it’s only been four years, but you see everything. I’ve seen every coverage,” Mitchell said after the game. “It’s just a matter of me reading right … I knew a little bit that when they came into the game, they would cast different looks and they would probably do the same thing again in Game 3, so just have to be ready and watch the movie and do what I instinctively do. “
The zone defense gave Mitchell a bit of trouble in the second half as the Clippers mounted their comeback, but when it came down to the Jazz needing a basket, Mitchell chased a switch to Luke Kennard and went to work making a difficult clutch shot to put the game out of reach.
If Mitchell is to play at this level, the Jazz will wreak havoc on opposing defenses and maybe just be in the NBA Finals. His performances so far this post season combined with what we’ve already seen in his young career make Mitchell a superstar of the rarest kind – one who raises his game when it matters most.
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“Our guys know who he is and he knows who he is, and I think the biggest thing Donovan has done, honestly, is just compete,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after 2 p.m. match. “It’s something he brings every night. He just wants to win and he competes and good things get better when that is the case. “