SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell didn't sugarcoat it: He had some nerves about his ankle heading into Game 2.
He was clearly confident that it was recovered enough for him to play — evidenced by how frustrated he was after being scratched from Sunday's Game 1. But going from controlled workouts to playoff basketball is a pretty big jump. No matter how much testing and practice he'd gone through, he didn't know how the ankle would respond until he actually played.
"There's definitely a bit of nerves. ... Jumping off the foot for the first time that hard in five weeks, landing, cutting … those are the things that you definitely think about," Mitchell said.
But after his first jump shot and his first drive to the basket, he felt like his old self, leading Utah to a 141-129 win over Memphis to even the best-of-seven series.
"I feel good," the All-Star guard said. "I have put myself in kind of treacherous situations to come back to be ready for playoff intensity. I felt better than I anticipated."
That's welcomed news to Jazz fans, especially after Mitchell came down hard on his recovering ankle in the fourth quarter. Mitchell got up gingerly and headed to the locker room to get checked out.
After he returned to the court, he quickly shuffled his feet back and forth across the inbound line as proof that he was ready to go again. After the game, he downplayed the hard landing and the ensuing locker room trip, stating that he goes back all the time during games, but that he's being watched a little more closely right now.
"I just haven't played in five weeks, all my stuff I've been doing to keep the ankles warm. Every workout, there's always a time where you warm up, there's never a time you're sitting and come back in," Mitchell said. "It wasn't anything bad. It wasn't anything to be weary of. I feel good."
He played pretty good, too.
Mitchell looked like he didn't miss a beat after being sidelined since April 16. He scored 12 of his team-high 25 points in the first quarter in an electric return.
"Any time you've been out for a significant period of time, I think there's a tendency to try to really put a stamp on the game," coach Quin Snyder said. "I thought he really let the game come to him. He was patient. He got a few catch-and-shoot 3's early where he got good looks, got off the ball and kind of made a simple play.
"And then I think as the game went on, you saw him attacking the basket, but he really played within himself. I thought he just made the right play and, obviously, it was good to have him back. It certainly changes our team."
Even with the strong showing and the mental hurdles that he passed, Mitchell still wasn't sure if his minutes would increase come Saturday's Game 3. Mitchell played 26 minutes in the Game 2 win — well below his regular workload.
"It's really kind of play it by ear and kind of feel. I won't come out and say I expect to play 35," Mitchell said. "I think the biggest thing is how the game goes, how I'm feeling. I'm trusting my body. It's a marathon not a sprint. Understanding that you got to trust the process in that sense; understanding that you can't go out there and just try and go full bore.
"I understand you got to ease your way into things. (Wednesday) was a good start. It's 1-1. We got to continue to build upon that and that's where my head is."