The Utah Jazz have yet to lose a playoff game in 2021 with Donovan Mitchell on the floor.
After missing the first game of the playoffs, in which the Jazz lost to the Memphis Grizzlies, Mitchell returned to the floor amid controversy about how the team managed his injury. Utah hasn’t been beaten since.
Mitchell’s ascension into the league’s elite started in last season’s Orlando bubble, where he played seven tough games in Utah’s opening round loss to the Denver Nuggets. The Jazz blew a 3-1 lead in that series. Here’s how Mitchell performed against the Nuggets in seven games.
Donovan Mitchell 2020 playoffs: 36.3 points, 4.9 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 52.9 FG%, 51.6 3P%
The guard was an absolute beast in the series, but failed to deliver in Game 7. He went 9-22 from the floor in the 80-78 loss. Utah was reportedly experiencing some turmoil at the end of last season due to Rudy Gobert’s casual attitude towards the pandemic before testing positive for COVID himself, resulting in the NBA suspending the season. More reports surfaced about Mitchell and Gobert’s relationship and tension among the group, especially after Mitchell tested positive for COVID. Despite going up 3-1 in the series, that dynamic seemed to linger over the team.
Instead of breaking apart, the Jazz went on an incredible tear during the 2020-21 season. Utah stormed to the league’s best record and secured home-court advantage throughout the postseason with a 52-20 record. Mitchell wasn’t in the MVP conversation, but he was widely regarded as one of the league’s top players. With a Defensive Player of the Year in Gobert, Sixth Man of the Year in Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley in the backcourt, the Jazz were ready to contend for a title. The question was whether Mitchell could take his game to another level as the stakes got higher.
Donovan Mitchell 2021 playoffs so far: 32.7 points, 5.3 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 48.2 FG%, 41.9 3P%
It’s not quite his effort in the Orlando bubble, but Mitchell has filled up the stat sheet this postseason. He’s playing less minutes than in the bubble, but maintaining similar production and efficiency. More importantly, he’s outperforming the opponent’s star player. That’s what closely contested playoff series often come down to.
Donovan Mitchell points in first round: DNP, 25, 29, 30, 30
Ja Morant points in first round: 26, 47, 28, 23, 27
Morant won Games 1 and 2, but Mitchell outscored him in the rest of the series. That has continued in the second round against Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Donovan Mitchell points in second round: 45, 37
Kawhi Leonard points in second round: 23, 21
It’s one thing to outproduce a second-year player like Morant. It’s another to top a two-time Finals MVP who is considered by some to be the best player in the league. In his fourth postseason, Mitchell is breaking out and attempting to join the conversation as one of the best players in the league. This is coming after he agreed to a five-year, $163 million extension worth up to $195 million with incentives. The Jazz were never going to let Mitchell walk, but he’s made good on that contract with this postseason performance.
Utah is up 2-0 on the Clippers and still needs to win two more games to get to the conference finals, a place the franchise hasn’t been since 1997-98. That was also the last time the Jazz made the NBA Finals. Utah is currently the favorite to win the West at -167, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The Jazz are +250 to win the title behind the Brooklyn Nets. Mitchell is +450 to win Finals MVP behind Kevin Durant.
Mitchell went No. 13 in the 2017 draft to the Nuggets, but was traded to the Jazz on draft night. Several teams that passed on him will be watching his playoff performances with a wry smile. At 24, he’s going to get better and has yet to hit his prime. Utah identified his potential early in the scouting process and kept things quiet before making the big move on draft night. The franchise is reaping those rewards now.