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Donovan Mitchell sets Utah Jazz playoff scoring record in Game 1 overtime loss
The greatest scoring performance in Utah Jazz playoff history doesn’t belong to Karl Malone or John Stockton or anyone else whose jersey hangs in the rafters at Vivint Arena.
It belongs now to Donovan Mitchell.
The Utah Jazz’s All-Star guard put on an offensive showcase on Monday afternoon, scoring a career-high 57 points in the first postseason game played inside the NBA’s Bubble. Mitchell, in his third season, scored the third most points ever in a playoff game. His 57-point performance trails only Michael Jordan’s 63 and Elgin Baylor’s 61.
Mitchell (who also had 9 rebounds and 7 assists) left the arena disappointed as his squad dropped Game 1 of this first-round series with the Denver Nuggets, a 135-125 in overtime. But Mitchell was not deflated.
“At the end of the day, I know there’s no home court (advantage), but they did their job. I told the guys in the locker room, we could lose by 60 (points), we could lose by one. We lost by 10 (points) tonight,” Mitchell said. “It’s Game 1. It’s one loss. It counts the same. It’s not any different. It’s tough to lose the first game but we see what their approach is … and there’s a lot we can improve on without overreacting.”
Mitchell’s scintillating performance came against a Nuggets team that has given him trouble this season, thanks to the defensive prowess of Denver wing Torrey Craig. On Monday, Mitchell got the best of the matchup.
“Torrey Craig is a hell of a defender, so for me, just trying to find ways to get into the paint and make the right read,” Mitchell said. “Whether it’s finishing, whether it’s drawing a foul. Whatever it is. For me, it’s just trying to find ways to make it easier for myself… (Craig) is one of the best guard defenders in the league and I watch other guys in the league and how they attack him and he’s given a lot of people fits, so for me, just trying to find ways to make it easy. Obviously, not having Mike (Conley), (I’m) on the ball a little more and I knew I was going to have to take my time and approach it in a different way and I was able to do that.”
Mitchell put his team on his back Monday on the court and then shouldered some of the blame for the loss afterward. With the Jazz up 4 late, Mitchell walked the basketball over half court too slowly, unaware that the ball had previously been touched by a teammate, resulting in an 8-second violation. Denver capitalized on the turnover, hitting a 3-pointer to cut Utah’s lead to 1.
“That changed the game, that sequence there,” Mitchell said. “… That’s my fault. As a leader and as a point guard that’s terrible on my part. I put that on myself. At the end of the day it’s not all on that one moment, but that was a crucial play.”
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder expressed a need for better execution from his entire team in crunch time as Utah looks to regroup for Game 2 on Wednesday.
“We just have to continue to be precise,” Snyder said. “As I said, particularly at that point in the game. [Jerami] Grant and Craig, those guys are big, long, athletic and they make it hard on us. That’s why what Donovan did tonight was, that’s not easy on any level, particularly against these guys. We just have to be better. It’s not like we can go do a bunch of drills. Our guys will see it, they know. Our team is really competitive, and they want to win. You obviously saw that manifest itself in a lot of ways. It didn’t with our ball security late, but we were in a position to win the game, particularly at the end of the fourth quarter, and made a few plays that cost us.”