SALT LAKE CITY — One of the best parts — of many best parts — from the Utah Jazz’s Game 2 blowout of the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday afternoon was the in-game commentary — not from TNT’s game crew or their hilarious studio bunch featuring copious amounts of Shaquille O’Neal vs. Charles Barkley banter.
Nah, this golden nugget, so to speak, came out of the mouth of a mic’d-up Donovan Mitchell.
At some point during Mitchell’s 30-point performance — and probably during his 21-point third quarter — TNT’s microphone picked up Spida telling one of the Nuggets, “It ain’t nothing personal.”
You’ll have a hard time convincing that to anybody on the Eastern side of the Rocky Mountains.
(3) Denver Nuggets
vs. (6) Utah Jazz
Nuggets 135, Jazz 125 (OT)
Jazz 124, Nuggets 105
Jazz 124, Nuggets 87
Jazz 129, Nuggets 127
Nuggets 117, Jazz 107
Nuggets 119, Jazz 107
Nuggets 80, Jazz 78, Nuggets win series 4-3
If it didn’t feel personal watching Mitchell drop 57 points on you while making every single one of those points look easy in Game 1, then seeing him engineer a win by getting teammates involved and then slicing and dicing his way through your team and also destroying your defense from the outside in a magnificent follow-up performance certainly did — regardless of how magnanimous he acted.
In Wednesday’s 124-105 Jazz win in Orlando, Mitchell only needed 14 shots to score 30 points in this efficient equalizer. He hit six of seven 3-pointers, only missed four field-goal attempts, dished out eight assists and had a strong plus-minus rating of plus-23.
Jazz guard Mike Conley Jr. is in the NBA’s quarantine after returning to the bubble following the birth of his third child, but Mitchell made the Nuggets’ defense look like it was in an isolated safe place — or at least socially distancing — while evening the first round series at one game apiece.
The brilliant part of Mitchell’s game Wednesday is that he did what superstars tend to do when they know the double and triple-teams are coming their way. He played an excellent role as a decoy and director, didn’t force things and got his teammates involved.
Mitchell didn’t just play like a highlight-producing superstar who can razzle with dunks and dazzle with deep shots. He played like a leader, and his teammates responded.
“I think today I just really trusted my teammates and they did a hell of a job,” Mitchell said. “Rudy (Gobert), Joe (Ingles), JC (Jordan Clarkson), Royce (O’Neale), everybody, to be able to not just get shots but be ready as a playmaker, and I think that’s what made it easy for me.”
Impressively, the Jazz managed to take a 61-48 lead into halftime despite a quiet opening half by Mitchell. Two days after exploding for the third-highest playoff scoring total ever — and the highest in franchise history — Spida only had six points in the first two quarters.
That had to befuddle Nuggets Nation, many of whom had to think a 2-0 lead would be a cinch if Denver held Mitchell to fewer than 57 points. The Jazz did, after all, play without two of its best scorers in the injured Bojan Bogdanovic and the proud-new-papa Conley.
That’s what has to make this particular two-game stretch for Mitchell so exciting for the Jazz. He isn’t just a gifted scorer. He’s a gifted basketball player and a gifted court general. He can beat you — or at least keep his shorthanded team in the game — with his scoring capabilities. But he can also hurt you — in a non-personal way — with all of the other things he can do.
“Rudy (Gobert), Joe (Ingles), JC (Jordan Clarkson), Royce (O’Neale), everybody, to be able to not just get shots but be ready as a playmaker, and I think that’s what made it easy for me.” — Donovan Mitchell
One of those moments came when he was double-teamed out on the perimeter and cleverly fired a cross-court pass to a wide-open O’Neale, who squared up and hit a 3-pointer. That vision and generosity came in the pivotal stretch of the second half when Utah took a perilous double-digit lead against the dangerous Nuggets and turned it into an insurmountable 31-point advantage.
Mitchell scored 21 points in that game-clinching third quarter — just as a reminder of what he’s capable of doing when he takes matters into his own hands.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder said this game shows how unselfish Mitchell is. He played facilitator when his team needed and then he flipped on his own scoring switch when that was what the Jazz required. Snyder loved that Mitchell kept making the right plays, which Mitchell has seemed to do in every situation except that unfortunate 8-second backcourt violation in Game 1.
“It shows his mentality,” Snyder said, “that he’s able to do what he did the other day and then tonight in a different situation where he gets different coverages and adjustments, but he continued to make the right play. For him, it shows what kind of player he is. He’s about winning. We defended as a team, and I think that’s what Donovan’s focus was.”
Snyder’s response about Mitchell included a compliment coaches love to dole out.
“He cares about his teammates and he wants to win,” Snyder said. “That for him trumps any individual performance, and you saw that tonight.”
Just as it is when a romantic interest is super polite while telling you she’s washing her hair the night you asked her out or when a boss tells you how great of a job you’ve done while handing you a pink slip, what Mitchell has done to the Nuggets might not be personal, but it’s still gut-wrenching to be on the receiving end, no doubt.
And good luck to Denver if it actually does become personal for Mitchell.