HOUSTON — As Donovan Mitchell celebrated, a text message popped up on his phone immediately following Utah’s closeout win against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Congrats, talk to you after the series,” Chris Paul sent him late Friday.
Waiting for the Utah Jazz in the very next round were the Houston Rockets and Paul — a close friend and mentor.
Then, once they hit the court 38 hours later in Houston’s Toyota Center, there was no love on the hardwood.
Paul helped the Houston Rockets take Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinals series against Mitchell and the Utah Jazz on Sunday 110-96.
Mitchell ended with 21 points and five assists while Paul posted 17 points, six assists and four steals.
Sidelining that relationship for the postseason is part of the job.
“Easy,” Paul explained during the postgame press conference. “For real, like I mean these guys (James Harden and P.J. Tucker) got guys probably on other teams that they’re close with and stuff like that.”
Mitchell’s relationship with Paul has been widely publicized. After his sophomore season at Louisville, the star rookie decided to turn pro under the influence of Paul and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George.
He also learned a lot from the Rockets All-Star guard by attending his CP3 Elite Guard Camp in his hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, last summer.
“(Chris Paul) and Paul George are the main reasons why I’m here,” Mitchell told the Deseret News in November. “They told me that I should definitely stay in the draft and had a big influence on my decision.
“Being at that camp, I learned a lot,” he continued. “(Chris) told me that the game is going to have to start slowing down before success starts to come (and) just being able to take it game-by-game.”
Both Paul and George have been blown away by his development since the summer. During the first-round series against OKC, he put up historic rookie numbers to help Utah knock off OKC in six games, averaging 28.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists.
George could only tip his hat to the 21-year-old, even in defeat.
“Really proud of his progress,” George said. “I worked with Donovan probably about two, three weeks from a year the past summer and I just seen his work ethic.
“I was wowed by his work ethic, his heart, his competitiveness,” he added. “All of that showed through his rookie campaign so really proud of the way he’s carrying himself on the floor and just the confidence he has.”
Paul has offered advice to Mitchell all throughout the season to help his progress, but now that he’s in a heated postseason series against the Jazz, those friendly exchanges are cut off until further notice. They’ll reconnect once the playoffs end.
“It’s all competition, never nothing personal,” Paul said.