Utah Jazz v Houston Rockets - Game Five
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 24 : Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets goes for the block against Ricky Rubio #3 of the Utah Jazz during Game Five of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 24, 2019 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz disappointed with early playoff exit but say 'this is going to fuel us'

by Aaron Falk

Donovan Mitchell left the court first. A year ago, he lingered, let the confetti cover him as he congratulated his opponents. But on Wednesday night, with his season over, Mitchell made a quick exit. This time he would be the first person his teammates slapped hands with as they entered the locker room.

“We fought with heart. We fought hard. We can’t hang our heads on that,” Mitchell said. “I can’t say enough about everyone. We were underdogs. Ain’t nothing new for us. Most teams, when you go down 2-0, most teams kind of call it quits. We have guys from top to bottom coming in, making plays, fighting, competing, yelling and screaming, whatever we have to do to win. Being down 3-0, we came out and fought. Even tonight. We got some dogs on this team.”

The Utah Jazz’s season came to an end on Wednesday night in Houston, after James Harden and Chris Paul had dealt them a 100-93 defeat at Toyota Center. The poor shooting that seemed to plague the Jazz for the entirety of this first-round series again reared its head. Utah shot just 40.8 percent from the field in the series and 27 percent from 3-point territory.

Mitchell, the hero of Game 4 in Salt Lake City, went 4-for-22 in Game 5. As his teammates dressed, Mitchell sat quietly at his locker for a long while until Jazz head coach Quin Snyder knelt next to him.

Mitchell declined to share the details of that conversation. But in his post-game remarks, Snyder offered sincere praise for the sophomore guard.

“He had a tough night statistically. I think, as did we,” the coach told reporters. “In a lot of ways, how Donovan goes, we go. It’s a responsibility that I think he’s shown time and time again, even for a young player, to understand and to rise to the challenge. You’re not always going to have great nights. You’re not always going to make the shot. You’re not always going to have it go your way. But the thing I’m grateful for in having an opportunity to coach Donovan is his approach and how he goes into it. I think for all of us, for Donovan and myself, anytime you have adversity hopefully you can channel it and get better. That’s what Donovan has done all season.”

It’s what Mitchell and the Jazz will now do this summer.

“It stings, but hopefully guys learn from this and get ready for next year,” forward Derrick Favors said.

“We’re disappointed right now but we’ll reflect over the next few days and weeks and work out what we can do to come back next year and get further than we did tonight,” forward Joe Ingles promised.

Ingles acknowledged his struggles against the Rockets’ defense and its effort to push the left-hander to his right, and Ingles said defeat would motivate him.

“This is going to fuel us,” he said.

The Jazz will lament their offensive struggles against the Rockets, especially because of the relative success they had defending James Harden, the league’s leading scorer and reigning MVP.

“Quin’s a hell of a coach,” Mitchell said. “A lot of y’all laughed at us the first two games when we guarded the way we did. And most people would fold. But Coach, we stuck with it. We came in and we stuck with the game plan. Obviously we didn’t win the series, but James Harden is one of the best players in this world and he didn’t really have three fantastic games. We were in there the past three games. That’s a prop to Quin and the coaching staff. They stuck with what they believed in. We believe in them 110 percent. It showed these last few games. They spend hours upon hours. They’re there before us and they’re there way after us. Unfortunately, we didn’t shoot well enough, but they did what they had to do. I’m really honored to play for this coaching staff.”

For a second straight year, the Rockets bounced the Jazz from the post season in five games. But, for a second straight year, players in the Jazz feel they are working toward a breakthrough.

“It sounds a bit silly now, but we are really close to being an unbelievable team,” Ingles said. “The last couple of years, we’ve shown we’re kind of right there.”


Mitchell voluntarily shouldered much of the blame for his team’s struggles in this series. With his second season behind him, had already started to look forward as he spoke from the podium Wednesday night.

“You don’t succeed without failure. You don’t succeed without going through times like this,” he said. “I can tell you that I’m upset, but I’ll be better. Simply put. I wasn’t tonight, but I’ll be better.”

His coach and teammates would agree.

“Hundreds of times I’ve answered this question,” Snyder said. “What did Donovan learn from this? Or how did Donovan deal with that? They’re good questions because Donovan is consistently in those situations where his team and coaches rely on him. I’m proud of him. The fact that he competes the way he does. There will be good nights and bad nights and everything in between. …

“The best thing about Donovan is we talk about him because we should, but Donovan’s part of a team and he embraces that as much as anything. That’s why he takes things hard. But in doing that, that’s how we get better.”


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