SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell was struggling.
Maybe he was still feeling the effects of the illness that caused him to miss Sunday’s win against the Wizards; maybe it was just a bad night; or maybe it was a few nerves playing close to where he grew up in New York.
“For some reason, I was nervous at the start of the game,” Mitchell said with a half-laugh.
For the first three quarters against the Nets in Brooklyn on Tuesday, Mitchell didn’t look like the player who very well could be playing in the NBA All-Star game next month. Then the fourth quarter happened. Actually, more like the end of the fourth quarter happened.
From the 6:03 mark on, Mitchell scored 14 of his 25 points. He hit a deep 3-pointer, then drove inside for a layup. He hit a push shot, and then spun inside for a hanging layup. On and on it went. With Nets’ guard Kyrie Irving trying to will his team back into the game, Mitchell always had an answer in Utah’s 118-107 win.
“Donovan, especially late when we really needed to score, they were scoring and we had to answer,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “Donovan made a few really big moves to the rim and finished.”
That isn’t new; far from it, actually. It’s what Mitchell has done all season. But on this night, it came as a surprise.
Mitchell didn’t appear to be at 100%. His shots were often short, he made some poor choices with the ball, and forced shots that simply weren’t there. He tried a turn-around baseline jumper from 20 feet out, and his moves got a bit too complicated at times.
In the third quarter, he even missed his signature one-handed dunk, slamming it hard off the rim, leading to an easy Brooklyn bucket on the other end.
After the game, Mitchell admitted that he was making life more difficult than it needed to be, and he struggled to find a reason for doing that.
“I don’t know why I spun three times,” Mitchell said. “I don’t know why I tried the Shammgod (dribble move) in the second. I don’t know why.”
But he plans on using it as a learning experience.
Progress isn’t linear, Mitchell said. He accepts that there will be times he will fall into some old bad habits and make some silly mistakes, but he’s more concerned about how he responds when those creep up. So, he left Barclays Center feeling pretty good. He overcame the uncharacteristic nerves to start the game and the uncharacteristic play at the beginning, and he finished the way his team has gotten used to him finishing.
“The biggest thing for me that stood out was that I was able to keep it simple when it counted,” Mitchell said. “... I think that's the part of growing that I think I'm trying to implement in my game.”
Mitchell didn’t let his early mistakes define his night, and he helped the Jazz win their 10th straight game because of it.
“I had to give my team something,” Mitchell said. “I was struggling all game. I was obviously a little under the weather. I think my teammates just trusted me in those moments, just taking the ball to the rim, being aggressive."