Okay, it would be a stretch to call it Donovan Mitchell’s flu game.
But during his performance in Game 5, when he led the Jazz to a blowout, closeout victory against the Memphis Grizzlies, Mitchell was certainly feeling a little under the weather.
“Yeah, I had — these allergies are kicking my butt, man. I was up every hour on the hour last night, probably the worst I’ve had in my life,” Mitchell said during his postgame press conference, conducted through some sniffles and throat-clears. “But such is life, it happens. I’ll be fine.”
Regardless of the circumstances, it was a masterpiece. Mitchell scored 30 points (on stellar 11-16 shooting from the field) and dished 10 assists — it’s the first time a Jazz player had done that in a playoff game since Deron Williams in 2010. Before that, you have to go back to John Stockton’s 1989 playoffs to find a 30/10 game from a Jazz player.
It’s not going to go in NBA lore like Michael Jordan’s flu game — his Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, in which he scored 38 points, dished seven assists, and carried the Bulls to a 90-88 comeback win over Stockton and Malone’s Jazz. Hardly anyone knew Mitchell was feeling under the weather, unlike Jordan’s well-publicized dehydration in his illness.
But Mitchell still turned heads. In particular, Mitchell scored 114 points in his 120 minutes on the court during the series. If you do some math, that’s 0.95 points per minute on the court, which has only been surpassed by three playoff performances in NBA history: his own series against the Denver Nuggets last season, in which he scored 0.961 points per minute; Russell Westbrook’s 2016-17 series against the Rockets, in which he scored 0.963 points per minute; and Jordan’s 1985-86 series against the Celtics, in which he scored 0.97 points per minute.
Like Mike, in more ways than one.
However, in order to be regarded at that level, Mitchell has to win, and not just in the first round. To get there, teammates say that he’s remained singularly focused during this campaign, trying to reach his ultimate goal of an NBA championship or six.
“I think it’s his level of focus has been tremendous whether it’s playoff or regular season,” Rudy Gobert said. “This year from the beginning of the season, since training camp, his focus was at the top.”
Mitchell enjoyed his Game 5 performance, but wasn’t exactly satisfied by it, either. “We’ve got to continue to to have the same level of effort and intensity every game throughout these playoffs,” Mitchell said. “And, you know, [Wednesday] was good, but we did what we’re supposed to do, and [now] we have got to take care of this next round.”
Things will get tougher. The Grizzlies were the No. 9 seed for a reason, the youngest team in the NBA playoffs. They fought, but had a clear talent and experience deficit compared to the Jazz. Mitchell showed an ability to easily beat primary defender Dillon Brooks in the series, but doing that against more experienced defenders might be different going forward.
“We don’t just turn it on, turn the switch on when it’s playoff time,” Gobert said. “You got to build habits. You’ve got to be able to build an identity, build chemistry. Then, when it’s playoffs, obviously the intensity and everything gets up one level.”
Second round schedule
The NBA announced on Friday afternoon what the Jazz’s second round schedule would look like, even though they didn’t yet know the outcome of Friday night’s game between the Mavericks and Clippers.
Here’s the NBA playoff schedule with dates, TV info and most times for the Eastern Conference and Western Conference semifinals: pic.twitter.com/tRPi3qXV7M
— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) June 4, 2021
No matter what, the Jazz will play at home on Tuesday, June 8, on the road on Saturday, June 12, and play a game every other day for the rest of the series.
But if the Mavericks win Game 6, the series will begin on Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. MT, televised on ABC. That would also mean a three-day break in between Games 2 and 3 at the end of next week.
If the Clippers win, Game 1 will instead be Tuesday, and Game 2 will be Thursday. The rest of the schedule, though, would remain the same.