The Utah Jazz had climbed out of a 13-point halftime deficit to tie the score going into the fourth quarter in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2021 NBA Playoffs on Tuesday. Donovan Mitchell was the catalyst, bouncing back from an inefficient first half to torch the nets in the third and put Utah in position to steal the win.
As the game headed into the fourth quarter, Mitchell — who was wearing a microphone throughout the game for TNT — was caught telling teammate Joe Ingles that LA would fold if the Jazz pressed them at the start of the final period.
“They played a Game 7 two days ago,” Mitchell said. “It’s all how we start this quarter. They’ll call it quits and get ready for Game 2 if we make them.”
Mitchell would finish a driving layup for an and-one to score Utah’s first points of the period. He hit a step-back three a couple possessions later to put the Jazz up three, and give them a lead they would never surrender.
The Jazz won, 112-109, to take a 1-0 lead over the Clippers in the second round matchup. Jordan Clarkson and Bojan Bogdanovic each scored 18 points, and Rudy Gobert made a game-saving block at the buzzer on a Marcus Morris three-pointer that could have tied the game. That Utah won this game without Mike Conley, who was out with a hamstring injury, makes it even more impressive.
The Jazz earned the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and finished with the best net-rating in the NBA with an egalitarian approach that involved every member of the team, and this game was no different to an extent. But when the Jazz had to dig deep to find offense, it was Mitchell who became the star of the show.
Mitchell finished with 45 points and five assists on 16-of-30 shooting from the floor and 6-of-15 shooting from three. In what’s becoming a trend in the 24-year-old’s short career, Mitchell is taking his game to new heights in the playoffs:
It’s the fourth time Mitchell has scored 40 or more points in his 28 career playoff games, tying Karl Malone for the most in Jazz history. Malone, the NBA’s second all-time leading scorer, needed 149 games to do it.
Mitchell is averaging 28.1. points per game in the playoffs over his career, which puts him in truly elite company. His playoff numbers are way up across the board when compared to his regular season numbers.
Mitchell was also right about the Clippers. Los Angeles needed seven games to advance past the Dallas Mavericks after the series in an 0-2 hole. The Clippers’ decisive Game 7 victory over Dallas happened in the early afternoon hours of Sunday, giving LA both short rest and a short preparation window before Game 1 against the Jazz. The elevation in Utah presented another challenge. The Clips got a gift with Conley’s absence and still couldn’t take advantage, but they were in the game most of the night. This series feels like it’s going to be closely contested the entire way.
The Clippers have to believe that Paul George — who finished with 20 points on 4-of-17 shooting — will play better. The Jazz could get a better offensive game out of Gobert, and will likely get Conley back. It was easy to give the Clippers a small edge coming into the series because they have the best player in Kawhi Leonard, but at some point Mitchell’s excellence in the playoffs can’t be discounted. It was enough to give the Jazz a 1-0 lead on Tuesday.