SALT LAKE CITY — A wide-open Donovan Mitchell fired off a potential game-tying 3-point attempt off an inbounds pass from Ricky Rubio with just seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 3.
Despite scoring a game-high 34 points with six rebounds and five assists, the second-year Utah Jazz guard couldn’t hide his disappointment as the Houston Rockets went on to win 104-101 after he missed the shot.
After struggling in games 1 and 2, Mitchell’s performance in Game 3 was by far his best one, but after starting 5-for-7 from the field with 13 first-quarter points, he went 3-for-14 in the second half.
“I can’t miss those shots,” Mitchell said. “I’ve got to be able to hit those, and we’ve got to be able to capitalize as well.”
Mitchell is averaging 21.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.0 steals during this Rockets playoff series but is shooting just 32.8% from the field and 63.6% from the free-throw line. Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers have been the primary defenders on Mitchell and have made him work for everything, but Rockets guard Chris Paul still praised him for competing until the end.
“Slow him down? He had 34. I mean it is what it is,” Paul said following Game 3. “Donovan got it going. He got to the line 17 times … we just try to make it tough on him. For us, the name of the game is to win the game, so if he gets it going but we win the game, we did our part.”
Although Mitchell went 9-for-27 during Game 3, he’s still averaging 23.7 points per game throughout his 14 career postseason appearances. Only Karl Malone and Adrian Dantley have higher scoring averages in the playoffs in Jazz history.
Once Jazz guard Kyle Korver wrapped up his media scrum in the locker room, the veteran sharpshooter asked the cameras to come back for one last message where he took time to reflect on what Mitchell is being asked to do at this early stage of his career.
“I have never been around a young player like Donovan Mitchell,” Korver said. "I have never seen someone so young take ownership of a team, take ownership of his play, do it with charisma, do it with class. Never seen that in my 16 years in the NBA.
“He missed a tough shot tonight, but it’s going to be part of his story,” he continued. “If you’ve played any meaningful basketball in the NBA, you have a shot like that. If you don’t that means you haven’t played in any meaningful games or you haven’t been trusted by your teammates and coaches to take that shot. I don’t care who it is in history, everyone has a shot they want back. This is going to be part of the story at the end of the day.”
As a rookie, Mitchell led the Jazz to a 48-win season then helped the franchise get to 50 wins as a sophomore. Korver has played alongside numerous stars such as Deron Williams, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving, but lauded Mitchell as someone he’s “super proud” of.
“For a young guy, 21 years old or whatever he is, that’s really special,” Korver said. “He is on a great path in the NBA. At the end of the day, this is just going to be part of his story, part of his journey. He’s just going to keep building on it.”
Unaware of Korver’s postgame comments, Mitchell addressed the podium following the Game 3 loss in a somber mood, wearing a hoodie while taking questions next to Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Utah now trails 3-0 in the series with Game 4 set for Monday at 8:30 p.m., but the same never-quit attitude that Korver described in the locker room was on display as the Jazz face the formidable task of trying to make the series competitive.5 comments on this story
“I don’t think anybody’s gonna just lay over on Monday,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think that’s gonna be the case. I don’t think the organization — I don’t think that’s what we’re based on.
“Yeah, you can say no team’s come back from 3-0, but no team could come back from 3-1 and that happened so that’s where our mindset’s at,” he added. “It’s an uphill battle, but we’re not just going to lay over and give them a game. That’s not who we are. That’s not who any of us are and like I said this morning, we’re not afraid. You saw it tonight and we’re going to keep playing.”