SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – Turns out, Donovan Mitchell makes a difference.
In his first game since April 16th, the Jazz All-Star guard scored 25 points in 26 minutes as Utah evened their playoff series with Memphis at a game a piece with a 141-129 victory at Vivint Arena Wednesday night.
Mitchell, who had been sidelined with a sprained ankle, missed the final 16 games of the regular season and Utah’s game one loss to the Grizzlies.
But Mitchell made his first shot, a three-pointer, and ended up sinking eight of 19 shots from the field as the Jazz put on an offensive show.
“I have never been in this position before, so this is uncharted territory,” Mitchell said about his longest absence from basketball since the 10th grade. “I had to find a way to just relax myself. It’s easy to go out there and try and hit a home run to start the game, but the game’s not won in the first five minutes.”
Rudy Gobert had 21 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots, while Mike Conley added 20 points and a career-high 15 assists. Bojan Bogdanovic scored 18 points for the Jazz.
Jordan Clarkson, who was presented with the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award before the game, added 16, while Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale each poured in 14 points.
“Mike had 20 and 15 Rudy at 21 and 13 — we did a lot of really good things so it made my job easier,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t have to come in and just do everything. I was able to just find my spots and attack and just kind of just do what I do.”
The Jazz, who made just 25 percent of its three-pointers in the first game of the series, connected on 19 of 39 shots from beyond the arc, and made 54.4 percent from the field overall.
Utah built a 74-54 lead at the half, before Memphis came out in the third quarter and scored on its first 15 possessions to cut the Jazz lead down to two.
But the Jazz turned it on again in the fourth quarter, putting up 38 points to end a four-game playoff losing streak dating back to last season.
“Anytime you’ve been out for a significant period of time,” said Jazz head coach Quin Snyder. “I think there’s a tendency to try to really put a stamp on the game and I thought he really let the game come to him. He was patient … and as the game went on, you saw him attacking the basket more but he really played within himself.”
Ja Morant was sensational for the Grizzlies, scoring a franchise-record 47 points and dishing out seven assists. Dillon Brooks added 23 points, while Jonas Valanciunas added 18 despite battling foul trouble.
Mitchell was ready to play on Sunday, but the Jazz medical staff scratched him from the lineup hours before the game, frustrating the Utah star.
Mitchell’s anger simmered as he watched the Jazz drop Game 1 to a motivated Memphis squad. He eventually met with his teammates and made sure they knew it wasn’t his decision to sit, and that he wanted to be on the court.
On Monday, Mitchell proclaimed he was playing in Game 2 no matter what, and the team agreed. He tried to make up for lost time, scoring 12 points with three 3s in his first eight minutes.
As he did in the first game, Brooks gave the Grizzlies a big lift once he got some relief from foul trouble. He and Morant got in the lane time and again as Memphis made 17 of 20 field goals to start the third quarter, trimming the lead to 93-91 on Melton’s 3-pointer.
Two Gobert dunks off pick-and-rolls powered a 10-0 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters and gave the Jazz a 110-97 lead following a three-point play by Mitchell.
Game 3 is set for Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Memphis.