OKLAHOMA CITY — As a sellout crowd of 18,203 fans stood to their feet in white Oklahoma City Thunder T-shirts at Chesapeake Energy Arena, a 21-year-old held his composure in a tough environment.
Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell caught the ball off an inbounds pass from Ricky Rubio then drove to the hoop against All-Star forward Paul George before spinning to his right for a six-foot floater with 1:33 remaining in regulation.
The confident rookie’s 13th points of the fourth quarter gave the Jazz a late 6-point lead to help Utah steal Game 2 on the road, 102-95, while tying the first round playoff series 1-1.
“Just continuing to be aggressive was just my mindset,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell ended with a game-high 28 points and six rebounds, despite fighting through a left foot contusion as a game-time decision to even suit up.
He connected on just 10 of his 25 attempts but made some key baskets down the stretch to seal the victory.
Through his first couple playoff games, he’s averaging 27.5 points after dropping 27 in the playoff debut Sunday. His 55 points are the most by a guard in his first two postseason contests in NBA history, passing Michael Jordan’s 53 points in 1985, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
“It didn’t really hurt too much throughout the game,” Mitchell said of the foot injury. “But there was just a point where I stopped being aggressive and the big thing with Rudy (Gobert), he let me know that I went 0-for-7 from 3, I’m letting guys off the hook.
“I’ve got to keep applying pressuring, getting to the rim and even if I miss, as you saw on the boards, they were right there crashing and getting rebounds,” he added. “Just being aggressive, getting to the rim, getting to the free-throw line. I didn’t have a free throw until the second half.”
OKC’s big three of Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook went 0 for 15 in the fourth quarter, with Westbrook scoring the lone two points at the free-throw line. The Thunder were held to 40 percent shooting for the night with 18 points for George, 19 from Westbrook and 17 from Anthony.
"We've just got to be aggressive, miss and make shots," Westbrook said. "Shots are going to fall. Those guys are unbelievable scorers and we trust in those guys all season long and we will continue to do that."
Utah closed the game on a 28-16 run with Derrick Favors going off for a career playoff-high 20 points and 16 rebounds and Ricky Rubio contributing 22 points, nine assists and seven rebounds after a rough 5-for-18 shooting performance in Game 1.
“I think in Game 1, I was trying to be over aggressive and didn’t look to get my teammates involved as much as I did today,” Rubio said. “I think today I did my job, looking for my teammates but looking for my shot when it was open. I just took what the game gave me.”
Rudy Gobert added 13 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks and two steals while drawing his sixth foul on Steven Adams with 2:48 remaining in the game. Gobert went 5 for 6 from the free-throw line in the fourth to capitalize on the fouls.
“He’s a very physical guy. It’s always a battle, so we have to come out and we both try to make sure we protect the paint,” Gobert said of Adams. “They’ve got guys like Corey Brewer, Paul George, who can attack the basket but at the same time we’ve got to get on Steven Adams.”
The game was filled with back and fourth runs by both teams with the lead changing a dozen times which also included 10 ties.
Mitchell helped Utah jump to an early 9-0 run by starting the game off with a steal and transition layup off a bad pass by Westbrook. OKC turned the ball over nine times in the opening quarter but trailed just 26-25 behind 10 points by Westbrook.
Utah entered halftime with a 53-46 edge after Rubio posted 12 points, five rebounds and five assists in the first 24 minutes, but allowed a 19-0 OKC run in the third to fall behind by as many as nine.
During the fourth quarter is when Mitchell took over to help the Jazz steal the road win before returning home to Vivint Arena for Game 3 on Saturday at 8 p.m.
“I think our team stayed together, and there was a timeout when there was just a determination, and I think we felt we just needed to rely on our defense and that’s what we did,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “Donovan, obviously, his aggressiveness on the offensive end fueled us there and the combination of those two things.”