After bruising his foot in Game 1, Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell insisted that he’d suit up for Game 2, despite having to play through a personally unprecedented amount of pain to do so. He didn’t seem very limited in his second-ever playoff game when he got a steal and scored on the first possession of the game, then went right at Steven Adams a few minutes later.
Mitchell was Utah’s best player in last night’s 102-95 series-evening win, despite missing all seven of his three-pointers. He had 28 points, keyed a huge 14-3 run that kept the Jazz in it after a 19-0 OKC run, and got to the rim whenever he wanted. Utah, for all its synergy and passing abilities, relies solely on Mitchell to break down defenses off the dribble and force them to scramble. There’s a well-worn trope that tighter playoff defenses require a one-on-one expert who can get buckets, but in Mitchell and the Jazz’s case, it really is true. Ricky Rubio is not getting to the rim. Rudy Gobert is not going to work 19 feet from the rim. The Jazz’s offense requires that Mitchell go nuts in order for the whole team to thrive.
Luckily, Mitchell did. He seemed generally unbothered by the Thunder’s better defenders during his fourth-quarter heroics. He cooked Carmelo Anthony, tore into Steven Adams, and went by Paul George. The sore-footed Mitchell was asked to do a lot, on the road, and he calmly took over.
Mitchell’s 55 points through his first two career playoff games break Michael Jordan’s previously held record for a guard (53). He’s usually much better from three, but as Gobert told him, his driving ability unlocks a critical item: the offensive rebound. Gobert and Derrick Favors piled up 13 offensive rebounds last night, and the Jazz out-rebounded the Thunder by 10:
“There was just a point where I stopped being aggressive,” Mitchell said. “Big thing with Rudy, he let me know — I went 0-for-7 from 3, I’m letting guys off the hook. I need to keep applying pressure, getting to the rim. Even if I miss, as you saw on the boards, they were right there crashing and getting rebounds.”
Utah now plays two games at home and has a great opportunity to build a 3-1 series lead. OKC won’t give up those games easily; George and Russell Westbrook will be better than they were in Game 2. Utah’s fate rests with Donovan Mitchell, and it’s nuts that a rookie is carrying this much weight in his first season. It doesn’t feel like an impossible task for him, though.