Donovan Mitchell wasn’t feeling his best.
The All-Star guard was lightheaded and nauseated — and that was before the Utah Jazz missed 20 consecutive shots in the first quarter of Tuesday night’s Western Conference semifinal.
But with a chance to grab a Game 1 victory in front of 18,000 fans at Vivint Arena, Mitchell wasn’t going to let anything, or anyone stop him. The Jazz guard exploded for 45 points — outscoring stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined — on 16-of-30 shooting to put his team up 1-0 over the L.A. Clippers.
“He’s really competitive but he’s also really determined,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “I don’t think he was feeling great tonight … but he’s not going to accept that. That’s where his mind is. There’s nothing he’s going to let get in the way of that focus.”
Mitchell and the Jazz exemplified focus and resolve on Tuesday.
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) June 9, 2021
The team saw its high-octane offense sputter in the first quarter, missing 20 consecutive shots over a stretch of about eight minutes. By halftime, with veteran point guard Mike Conley watching in street clothes because of a hamstring injury, the Jazz trailed 60-47.
They would not, however, give up hope.
“All of us started the game a little flat,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said. “We knew that was going to come back. … We knew that in the second half Donovan was going to come out aggressive. It gave us a great lift.”
Mitchell scored his team’s first 10 points of the second half, en route to 16 points in the third quarter.
“I was definitely feeling it a little bit, but sometimes you just have to dig deep to a different place,” Mitchell said. “I was getting my ass kicked individually in the first half, on both ends of the floor. … There were situations where I was being lazy and letting that fatigue get to me. I came into halftime and had to find a way.”
When Royce O’Neale hit a driving layup late in the period, the Jazz had rallied from 14 down to take a 72-71 lead.
“He’s just amazing. We’re down 13 at halftime, he probably thought, ‘I’ve gotta take over the game.’ He gave all that energy to the crowd, all that energy to us players,” Bojan Bogdanovic said of Mitchell.
A Bogdanovic 3-pointer put the Jazz up 103-93 in the fourth quarter. Bogdanovic had 18 points in the win, while playing some hard-nosed defense to help slow down Leonard and George.
Leonard scored 23 points on 9-of-19 shooting and George scored 20 points on a 4-of-17 night.
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— utahjazz (@utahjazz) June 9, 2021
Still, the Clippers trailed by only 3 points and had the ball for the final possession of the game. That’s when Gobert, the league’s two-time Defensive Player of the Year, put the final exclamation point on the night. The Jazz smothered Leonard on the 3-point line, forcing him to pass to forward Marcus Morris Sr. in the corner. Gobert blocked Morris’ attempt at the buzzer to clinch the victory and, once again, answering the call to defend against L.A.’s small-ball lineup.
“I’m comfortable guarding any lineup,” Gobert said. “You might see a clip of me dancing on the perimeter once in a while, but the truth and the numbers back it up. I’m comfortable guarding any lineup.”
With Game 2 on Thursday night, the Jazz now hope that Conley will be ready to be back in the lineup. The point guard went through portions of practice Monday but was held out of Game 1 on Tuesday night with a mild hamstring strain.
“It’s something that’s being constantly treated and monitored and they’re trying to find the right balance of when he’s able to come back and come back effectively,” Snyder said.
Conley averaged 17.4 points and 8.6 assists in the first round of the playoffs.
“Obviously Mike is a huge part of who we are,” Snyder said. “Particularly when you have a team that’s switching one through five … he’s someone that’s able to attack the switch and get in the lane.”
The Jazz look to go up 2-0 when they clash with the Clippers on Thursday night at Vivint Arena.