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'We didn't do all this to lose': Mitchell is grounded but determined to play through it

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) lays on the floor after being fouled during Game 5 of their NBA playoff series against the LA Clippers in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. The Jazz lost 119-111.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) lays on the floor after being fouled during Game 5 of their NBA playoff series against the LA Clippers in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. The Jazz lost 119-111. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — With just under six minute to go in Utah's Game 5 loss, Donovan Mitchell dribbled up court and was met by Nicolas Batum.

If this had been a week ago, Mitchell could have used a killer crossover or a devastating first step or a hard step to get any shot he wanted against the longer but slower forward. Instead, he tried to dribble past him on the right — one of the few times Mitchell really attacked the paint on his obviously bothered ankle. Mitchell forced some contact and threw up a high floater that somehow went in.

It was just one of five shot attempts Mitchell had from inside the 3-point line on Wednesday. By now, it's obvious, actually it's been obvious for three straight games, Mitchell's ankle is hurting, and hurting bad.

During Wednesday's game, he saw spots on the court he usually could get to with ease, but he couldn't accelerate enough to get there. He tried moves that he has done for years, but his ankle wouldn't allow him.

The high-flying Mitchell has been grounded.

And barring his ankle magically recovering overnight (it won't), that's where he'll be for as long as the Jazz remain alive in the postseason.

"I mean it (expletive) sucks. I ain't got nothing else to say," Mitchell said. "It's tough when you're trying different things that you normally do and you see spots you can get to but you can't, so you gotta find a way to make it happen. It's tough but I gotta find a way — otherwise I'm gonna be home."

The Jazz are one loss away from their dream season ending much sooner than anyone in the locker room anticipated.

A week ago, the Jazz were the No. 1 seed with a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals and Mitchell was arguably playing the best basketball of anyone in the playoffs. Six days later, Mitchell is learning how to play a whole new style of basketball on one good ankle with his team on the brink of elimination.

"For most of my life I've been able to push by, explode by, and jump through people or over people," Mitchell said. "And for the first time in my career, I've had to play on the floor."

He said he's figuring it out — learning where he can still attack and how to still put his teammates in the right positions — but the crash course is coming at a very inopportune time.

"This is a learning process and it sucks to learn this through the playoffs, but it is what it is and no excuses," Mitchell said. "So just being able to kind of bait the blitz, know when to attack and kind of just slow down a little bit. I think that's what I've been doing throughout the entire playoffs because obviously I can't really move."

With him playing on one leg, the Jazz likely won't be able to move on in the playoffs, either. Mitchell was 0 for 4 in the final two minutes Wednesday and settled for deep 3-point attempts that rarely were close.

"Big credit to Donovan that he is playing with the pain — he's trying to help us," Bojan Bogdanovic said. "It's not easy to play that way, but we all need to step up next game."

That's especially true if the current trajectory continues, which indicates Mitchell will be in worse pain as his ankle appears to cause more and more discomfort as the games go on. Quin Snyder said the Jazz will continue to evaluate him and "make decisions going forward that obviously have Donovan's best interest first and foremost in mind."

Mitchell's interest, though, as seen with the injury debacle before the first game of the playoffs, is to play — pain or no pain.

He was asked if there was any hope of the injury recovering between games and Mitchell said: "It's something I have to deal with. … We didn't do all this to lose in the second round, so gotta (figure it out). Otherwise, that's it."

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