Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell didn’t feel well at halftime of Tuesday’s Game 1 against the visiting LA Clippers. He was a bit under the weather, feeling nauseated and a little light-headed. And he really felt sick about his performance in the first half.
“Yeah, I was definitely feeling it a little bit, but sometimes you’ve just got to dig deep into a different place,” Mitchell said after the Jazz rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit for a 112-109 victory at Vivint Arena in this Western Conference second-round series. “I was getting my ass kicked individually in the first half on both ends of the floor. I wasn’t making the right reads. Luke [Kennard] hit a bunch of shots on me, Reggie [Jackson] hit a bunch of shots on me and there were situations where I was being lazy and letting that fatigue kind of get to me.
“So, I came into halftime and just said, ‘Look, I’m just going to have to find a way.'”
Mitchell made good on that vow with a spectacular second half, scoring 32 of his game-high 45 points. He scored on the Utah’s first four possessions of the third quarter — sandwiching a pair of step-back 3-pointers with a floater and a driving layup — and remained a dominant force attacking off the dribble the rest of the contest.
“We knew that in the second half Donovan was going to come out aggressive, and he did,” said Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who had 10 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks, including a win-sealing swat of Marcus Morris Sr.‘s corner 3 attempt with seconds remaining. “Obviously, he gave us a great lift. And he did a great job not settling for the jump shots but attacking them and putting pressure on them — finishing at the rim, drawing fouls or kicking out for the shooters.
“When we play that way, I think that’s when we become really, really hard to guard.”
By taking over the game for the top-seeded Jazz, the 24-year-old Mitchell continued building his reputation as one of the NBA’s premier playoff performers. Mitchell ranks sixth in NBA history in career playoff scoring average (minimum 25 games) at 28.1 points per game, and he tied Karl Malone’s franchise record with his fourth 40-point playoff performance.
It was the third time Mitchell has scored at least 45 points in the playoffs, and he has played in only 28 career postseason games. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain had more such performances in their first 30 postseason games.
It also marked the third time that Mitchell has scored 30 or more points in a half during a playoff game, matching Allen Iverson for the most in the NBA over the past 25 years.
In this case, Mitchell heated up after a poor shooting first half, when he was 5-of-14 from the floor and the Jazz shot just 32.1%, missing 20 consecutive shots during one stretch.
Mitchell finished 16-of-30 from the floor, including 6-of-15 from 3-point range.
“He’s not afraid to fail,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He’ll take the next shot. We want him to take open looks. If he misses a few of them, you know, they’re good shots. Keep taking them, and keep attacking. That’s who he is.”
Mitchell carried an even heavier offensive burden than usual, handling much of the point guard responsibilities with fellow All-Star Mike Conley sidelined for the series opener due to a mild right hamstring strain. Mitchell said he got a feel for how the Clippers wanted to defend him during the first half, allowing him to be more aggressive in the second half.
“I didn’t do a lot of things right for my team in the first half, and it really kind of ate at me,” said Mitchell, who also had five assists in the win. “It still does. I put my team in a certain position, and I feel like that it was on me to come out there and set the tone on both ends of the floor.”