The soreness in All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell‘s right ankle has worsened throughout the Western Conference semifinals, sapping his explosiveness and forcing him to attempt to adapt his game with the Utah Jazz on the brink of elimination.
“It’s something I’m going to have to deal with,” Mitchell after the LA Clippers took the series lead with a 119-111 road win in Wednesday’s Game 5. “I mean, it f—ing sucks. I ain’t got nothing else to say. Like, 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 got to find a way to make it happen.
“It’s tough, but I got to find a way. Otherwise, I’m going to be home. And I said it last year … and I said during the year, we didn’t do all this to lose in the second round, so we got to figure it the f— out. Otherwise, that’s it. Excuse my language.”
Mitchell, 24, missed the final 16 regular-season games and the Jazz’s playoff opener due after spraining his right ankle on April 16. Mitchell has aggravated the injury on multiple occasions during the second round, and his effectiveness has dropped off drastically since a pair of spectacular performances in the Jazz’s two wins to open the series, when he averaged 41 points on 52.5% shooting from the floor.
Mitchell finished with a postseason-low 21 points on 6-of-19 shooting in Game 5, snapping a streak of six consecutive 30-plus-point performances. In the past three games — Utah’s first three-game losing streak of the season — Mitchell has averaged 29.3 points but shot only 37.7% from the floor.
“For most of my life, I’ve been able to push by, explode by, and jump through people or over people, and for the first time in my career, I’ve had to play on the floor,” Mitchell said. “Knowing when to attack, picking my spots, finding my teammates, I think that’s the biggest thing, being able to kind of get off, hit them when they’re doubling me and engaging the blitz. And I think I did a solid job of that. I can do better. It’s a learning process and it sucks that I’m learning this through the playoffs, but it is what it is and no excuses.”
Mitchell is carrying an even bigger offensive burden than usual because of the absence of All-Star point guard Mike Conley Jr., who has missed the entire series because of a hamstring strain. Conley said Wednesday that he recently suffered a setback.
The Clippers have occasionally double-teamed Mitchell in the past three games in an effort to force the ball out of his hands. He is averaging 4.6 assists and 3.0 turnovers per game in the series.
“He is carrying a huge load, not just trying to create offense for himself, but for the group,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “[The Jazz medical staff] will continue to evaluate him and see where he is after tonight and continue to monitor that [ankle] and make decisions going forward that obviously have Donovan’s best interests at, first and foremost in mind.”