On the heels of another record-setting night for Donovan Mitchell, he was only interested in one statistic.
“I told Ricky, ‘I had zero turnovers,’” Mitchell said. “That’s what I’m happy about tonight.”
Others have taken note of his numbers in his first playoff berth — which have steamrolled the conventional wisdom of rookie walls.
With 33 points in Monday’s Game 4 victory for the Jazz, Mitchell broke a rookie playoff record previously held by none other than Karl Malone (31 points). He’s now scored 110 points in his first four playoff games, and Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the only other players who have surpassed that mark. While being the leading scorer (27.5 ppg) in the Thunder-Jazz series, helping lead his team to a 3-1 series lead, he’s also averaged 8.5 rebounds.
Then there’s the fourth quarter: After his performance on Monday, Mitchell was all alone at the top with 36 points in the last period, just ahead of LeBron James. In the fourth quarter, he’s shooting 52 percent, including hitting half of his 3-point attempts.
Asking Mitchell about all these impressive numbers, of course, is a useless exercise. He doesn’t want to talk about them.
“The biggest thing I am focused on is on the task at hand,” he said. “The biggest thing with me is if I start to think about the individual stuff and think about all the stuff that really doesn’t matter to the team, that’s when you lose your head and you aren’t giving your all to your teammates.”
Since the series began, Mitchell’s challenge has been a tricky one for a first-year player: The Jazz need him to use his speed and finishing ability to attack the rim, but also make reads for kick-outs and pocket passes when he needs to.
Monday was Mitchell at the height of his powers, making 10 of his 20 field goal attempts inside the arc. That included a spin move that nearly took Corey Brewer to the floor, and a midrange crossover of Jerami Grant. According to NBA tracking data, Mitchell was actually a better finisher on his contested shots (7 for 13) than his uncontested looks (6 for 15) — which is partially an indication that when Mitchell is willing to challenge defenders for the shot he wants, he can be successful.
“He’s done a good job of getting in there and finishing or dropping it off,” coach Quin Snyder said. “It’s an important part of what we do. He’s our most dynamic offensive player.”
The question looming for Oklahoma City: Is there anything else they can do about it?
Mitchell has seen both blitzing pressure and one-on-one pressure. There hasn’t been much that’s worked against him. The Thunder have primarily tried to cover him with Brewer, against whom he’s shot 50 percent (according to NBA matchup data) and utterly demolished in Game 4 (7 for 12, 16 points).
While it initially seemed that Paul George would guard him, OKC has only put him on Mitchell for 54 possessions — just three fewer than Russell Westbrook — and the team as a whole gives up more points per possession with George guarding Mitchell instead of Brewer.
The answer, in limited degrees, might be Westbrook, who has held Mitchell to just 10 points on 4 for 9 shooting in 51 possessions this series. But Westbrook’s feud with Ricky Rubio has helped cloud that issue, and perhaps allowed Mitchell to thrive.
The key for whatever the Thunder throw at him, Mitchell maintained, is that he doesn’t think about milestones or anything else.
“To be honest, a lot of this is surreal. I’m just taking it game-by-game and not really getting caught up in the big picture,” he said. “Just focusing on game-by-game. My teammates have helped me out a lot as far as that goes. But we’re playing together.”
WHO’S GOT THE ROOK?
The Thunder have used three primary players to guard Donovan Mitchell in this series. Here’s a look, according to NBA match-up data, as to who has been most effective:
Corey Brewer • 154 possessions; 22 for 44 FG; 55 points; 174 team points
Paul George • 54 possessions; 9 for 22 FG; 25 points; 62 team points
Russell Westbrook • 51 possessions; 4 for 9; 10 points; 54 team points