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'It's tough, but it is what it is': Donovan Mitchell has been forced to carry unusual burden in 2nd round

Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, right, gestures after a foul that was committed by the Utah Jazz as the Jazz's guard Donovan Mitchell looks down during the second half in Game 4 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, right, gestures after a foul that was committed by the Utah Jazz as the Jazz's guard Donovan Mitchell looks down during the second half in Game 4 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Los Angeles. (Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press)



SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell dreamt of these moments. He was the kid in the backyard counting down to the imaginary final buzzer as he put up the game-winning shot to a game that was only in his head.

Now the clock, the shots, the fans, and the game are all real — and Mitchell is at the center of it all.

"For me to be that person," Mitchell said, "I think is definitely a blessing, and an honor for sure."

But right now, Mitchell might be too much in the center.

The accolades have piled up for the fourth-year guard. In Monday's Game 4 loss, he recorded 37 points and reached the 30-point mark in six straight playoff games, tying a franchise record.

He's made five 3-pointers in five straight games, joining Steph Curry and Klay Thompson as the only ones to do that, and he's averaging 0.99 points per minutes — the highest in playoff history. After Monday's performance, he's fifth all-time in playoff points per game, sandwiched between Jerry West and LeBron James — decent company.

Mitchell has been heroic, at times, this postseason, even willing Utah to two wins at home against the LA Clippers; but the load is catching up. How long and how far can his tweaked ankle carry the Jazz?

"Well, I'm not gonna have Rudy (Gobert) bring it up right now," Jazz coach Quin Snyder joked before Game 4 when asked about Mitchell's heavy burden.

And then his answer got serious: "We're asking him to do a lot right now. He's getting trapped and blitzed; he's forced to get off the ball. Other guys on our team have an opportunity to space and make plays, and that's important."

But the problem for the Jazz is that there's not enough of those guys who have made plays in the last two games.

On Monday, Joe Ingles didn't take a shot in the first quarter when the Jazz scored just 13 points, and Bojan Bogdanovic was 1 for 5 in the first half. Gobert didn't have an official shot attempt until the second half, and Jordan Clarkson was 2 for 9 as the Jazz went into halftime down 24.

Yet Mitchell had 21 of his 37 points before halftime — no wonder it feels like Mitchell is having to carry the entire team right now.

"It's been different; it's tough," Mitchell said of the burden being put on him this round. "It's tough, but that's the job at hand. We've done a great job as a group, we've tried to go different looks and do different things. It's tough, but it is what it is."

Mitchell has gone supernova in the series, averaging 37.4 points, but the two games in LA showed how badly he needs help from his teammates.

During spurts of the game, especially after the halftime break, Bogdanovic and Ingles showed just how important it is for the Jazz and Mitchell for them to help take over the game. When they got involved with the offense, both initiating and playing off the ball, the Jazz resembled the team that finished with the best record in the league.

When it worked, the ball moved, more players drove to the basket, and the Jazz made a run. It wasn't enough to make Monday's game competitive, but it showed Utah how to play against the Clippers.

However, one thing could flip the series for the Jazz: Mike Conley's return.

In the first quarter Monday, the Jazz scored 13 points on 6-for-21 shooting. The ball stuck with Mitchell and Clarkson, who took turns trying to score in isolation. As a result, there were no easy looks and no ball movement, and the Jazz had six turnovers and no transition points. That's probably not happening if Conley's in the game.

"You don't even understand what he means for our team, we are missing him big-time," Bogdanovic said.

No more than Mitchell.

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