LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Donovan Mitchell was one of the bright stars of the playoffs, further illustrating that he’s a special, selfless figure even in defeat.
The Utah Jazz’s young star put forth an effort for the ages during the postseason restart by joining Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray in making NBA history by being the only two players to score at least 50 points twice in the same series.
But there was a period before the restart when Mitchell was hesitant about committing to the Orlando bubble because of his contract situation.
On a players Zoom call in June that was organized by Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, Mitchell opened up to his peers about his comfort level.
Mitchell is eligible for the rookie max extension — valued this offseason at roughly $170 million over five years — but there was concern that a serious injury in the restart could jeopardize his earnings.
“Once my teammates told me they wanted to play, then I was all in. I couldn’t make it all about myself,” Mitchell told Yahoo Sports after the Nuggets’ 80-78 Game 7 first-round win that eliminated the Jazz. “There are younger guys who aren’t established in this league and needed this time to show their value. It would have been selfish of me to stand in the way of that. I couldn’t let my contract get in the way of the bigger picture. I had to rely on God. If I got hurt, it was God’s will. But I put my trust in Him and didn’t worry about potentially getting injured. That allowed me to go out there and play. My faith was in God.”
Mitchell and the Jazz will finalize a max extension when free agency opens in mid-October, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
The Nuggets overcame a 3-1 first-round series deficit by winning Game 7 on Tuesday night. They face the Los Angeles Clippers (+275 to win it all at BetMGM) in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs starting Thursday.
“It was a great battle,” Murray said. “I don’t know what to say. I’m speechless. [Mitchell] played so good in every game. He put pressure on our defense to mix it up. He played with that fight, he played with that heart.”
Mitchell held back tears when he addressed the media after Tuesday’s heartbreaking loss.
The young All-Star averaged 36.3 points, five rebounds and 4.9 assists, and shot 52.5 percent from the field and 51.5 percent from beyond the arc in the series, and yet he professed to teammates that he could have done more.
Just minutes removed from a draining, grueling series, Mitchell answered questions honestly, respectfully and with proper perspective.
“The pain that’s on my face right now and the way I feel, I can only imagine what’s going through these victim’s families,” Mitchell said in an effort to keep the message on fighting systemic racism and social injustice. “This is a game. People lost their family members to police brutality and racism and s--t. I can only imagine. I just wanted to get that out there. The way that I’m feeling is nothing compared to that.”
When Mitchell finished, Jazz assistant coach Johnnie Bryant — who is taking a job as the associate head coach of the New York Knicks — was waiting for him outside of the large cubicle where Zoom news conferences are held.
Mitchell just collapsed into his arms and began weeping uncontrollably. Bryant and Mitchell are as close as any assistant coach and player. The two embraced for several minutes as the coach consoled Mitchell.
“That’s two years in a row,” Mitchell cried to Bryant, referring to losing in the first round to Houston in five games last season. “We worked too f--king hard for this.”
Mitchell tried to regain his composure, wrapping a towel around his head to wipe away the tears. The hurt was deep. The Jazz had three opportunities to close out a Nuggets squad whose roster had been depleted for much of the restart.
Multiple players entered the bubble late because of positive coronavirus results, Gary Harris’ restart debut was delayed in the series after recovering from a hip injury, and Will Barton left the bubble to receive treatment on his knee.
“We definitely had our chances,” Rudy Gobert told Yahoo Sports. “We just couldn’t get it done.”
Gobert told Yahoo Sports that he will travel back home to France to see his mother, whom he hasn’t seen since February.
“That’s the only good thing that came out of this loss,” Gobert said to Yahoo Sports.
Mitchell said he’s determined to come back an even more well-rounded player to prevent another letdown like this. Those close to the star said the playoff loss to Houston is what made him an All-Star for the first time this season. He bottled all of that disappointment and frustration into his offseason mindset while training.
He said that’s what he’s going to do again.
“I’m going to get right back to work,” Mitchell told Yahoo Sports. “I’m not done. The Utah Jazz aren’t done.”
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