I was just limping, so the trainers saw me limping and they thought that I needed to come out. But I was just being a baby, so I’m good.
OKLAHOMA CITY — When Donovan Mitchell first reached the sideline late in the Jazz’s 116-108 playoff loss to Oklahoma City, team trainers insisted on checking his foot.
A sore toe isn’t the most dreaded checkup a person can have — unless it involves a team’s best hope to win in the playoffs.
Early indications are Mitchell will be fine.
Jazz Nation, on the other hand, is a total wreck.
For Jazz fans, removing a kidney would be more pleasant than seeing the Rookie of the Year candidate limping. Last year Gordon Hayward missed all but nine minutes of a playoff game due to food poisoning. Rudy Gobert missed three playoff games after hyperextending his knee 20 seconds into the postseason.
Mitchell’s injury came when he left after three quarters, only to return following an examination.
“I was just limping, so the trainers saw me limping and they thought that I needed to come out,” Mitchell said. “But I was just being a baby, so I’m good.”
Losing to the Thunder wouldn’t have been the worst news of the day; losing Mitchell would have been.
“I feel fine,” Mitchell said. “I just stubbed my toe.”
He certainly seemed OK. After the game, he was standing barefoot in the locker room as media warily looked on. The left pinky toe in question didn’t appear red, swollen, cut or bruised. There was no dressing on the foot. When he slid on his pants, he did so gingerly but without hesitation.
Then he went off to the interview room.
He was back in his groove.
The Jazz weren’t the only team with minor injury news. OKC’s Paul George, who scored 36 points, spent the last few minutes of the game with a trainer working on his lower back. Nothing serious there, either. He sauntered off after the game, looking good to go. Still, everything and everyone gets nervous this time of year.
George, who injured his back earlier in the season, said he fell on his left side “and from there on it just got a little sore down there.”
Regardless, people get jumpy. The sight of Mitchell leaving nearly broke Twitter. Official word from the Jazz, in the early fourth quarter, was that he was in the locker room being examined. But results were negative.
“Nothing major,” Mitchell said.
Tell that to roughly 3 million Utahns.
In the early game, the Jazz looked completely unstoppable. They jumped to a 16-4 lead before the Thunder called timeout. Thereafter, the complexion changed. Oklahoma City kept up steady pressure, never trailing after the early second quarter.
“We just calmed down,” said OKC forward Jerami Grant.
Jazz fans weren’t as lucky.
Mitchell checked back into the game with 7:47 remaining, and made a pull-up jumper. A minute later he left momentarily, then returned to score on a layup. Finally, with 3:19 remaining, and the Jazz trailing by 15, coach Quin Snyder removed him for good to avoid damage.
Jazz fans sighed with relief. The NBA sighed. Somewhere, James Naismith sighed.
The fact Mitchell finished with a team-high 27 points put a few other concerns to rest. For instance, whether playoff pressure would bother him. No, though he might have been slightly amused at the fuss. He scored nine of the Jazz’s first 16 points.
Any more relaxed and he would have needed a defibrillator.
The Thunder had no problem getting back. The steady flow of All-Star talent —George, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony — began wearing the Jazz thin. OKC’s Big 3 had 43 of the team’s first 54 points.
Like the wind that has gripped Oklahoma City this week, the cold got in the bones of the Jazz. Nevertheless, they did have this going for them: last year’s home-court advantages weren’t all that advantageous. Forty-three percent of postseason games were won by road teams. At the same time, of 15 series played a year ago, 12 were won by the team that prevailed on opening night.
That’s all just numbers. The big story is that Mitchell and George survived to play another day. That was good news for everyone on both sides of the fence. No one wants the stars missing.
Seeing both walk out on their own was a win all by itself.