The Los Angeles Clippers have to be defiantly throwing their hands up in disbelief at this point. First, they got seven full games of a nearly unstoppable Luka Doncic, and now, in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, they’re being dissected and demoralized by Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, who has cemented his superstar status with his early postseason performances.
Mitchell scored 37 points on 15-for-29 shooting, including 6-for-12 from 3-point range in a 117-112 Game 2 win over the Clippers on Thursday to give the Jazz a 2-0 series lead. He’s now averaging 41 points on 53/44/80 splits against the Clippers, and has more points scored than minutes played in six games this postseason.
The most devastating part about the way Mitchell handled his business on Thursday was that the Clippers did their job. With any superstar player, you mix up your looks, alternate primary defenders and live with the results. The problem is, the results for Mitchell have been overwhelmingly in Utah’s favor. Here’s a quick look at all the ways that Mitchell capitalized on various Clippers defenses throughout the night.
Mitchell admitted that he came out with a scorer’s mentality after only putting up six points on 2-of-8 shooting in the first quarter of Game 1.
“I think tonight was that was my mindset going forward, starting off the game strong,” Mitchell said afterward. “I think my lackluster performance in the first half [of Game 1] on both ends of the floor was huge for them going out there and they get, what, we got down 13, where it was an uphill battle the whole game. So for me, it’s like, OK, I’m going to make my imprint and I think tonight was through scoring.”
You could see Mitchell’s aggressiveness early, but it was strategic. On his first basket of the game, Mitchell fakes like he’s going to use a screen from Rudy Gobert, but when he sees Marcus Morris in help position, he quickly crosses over, creating a wide-open jumper in front of the dropping 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 slithers through the gap between Morris and Paul George and gets into the lane, where he’s one of the best finishers in the world.
Mitchell finished the first quarter with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, but the assault continued from there. Watch here as Mitchell shows absolute mastery of the pick-and-roll, keeping Kawhi Leonard on his back as he slowly makes his way toward Zubac, forcing the big man to choose between defending him and the rolling Derrick Favors. The patience and savvy Mitchell shows here to get a layup is second to none.
By the end of the first half, Mitchell was feeling it so much that he was able to make unguardable shots like this in isolation. He went into the locker room at halftime with 27 points on 11-for-16 shooting in less than 20 minutes.
Naturally, the Clippers began blitzing Mitchell in the third quarter to get the ball out of his hands. This is where he showed his growth as a playmaker, able to make the right read and execute the pass to get his team in a position to score. Here he patiently navigates the double-team (which becomes a triple-team) and finds a wide-open Gobert for a dunk.
Next, when the Clippers send Leonard to double Mitchell late in the shot clock, he reads the defense and fires a perfect cross-court pass to Bogdanovic, who pump-fakes his way 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 making the right reads. … I kind of knew that coming into the game, they were going to throw different looks, and they’re going to probably do the same thing again in Game 3, so just got to be ready and watch the film 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 hunted a switch onto Luke Kennard and went to work, making a difficult, clutch shot to put the game out of reach.
If Mitchell is going to play at this level, the Jazz are going to wreak havoc on opposing defenses and might just find themselves in the NBA Finals. His performance so far this postseason, coupled with what we’ve seen already in his young career, makes Mitchell a superstar of the rarest ilk — one who elevates 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 that Donovan’s done, frankly, is just compete,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after Game 2. “That’s something that he brings every night. He just wants to win, and he competes, and good things happen when that’s the case.”