The 5th Best Player Performance of 2017-18

September 25th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

Donovan Mitchell shares the joy of his franchise-record 41 point performance as a rookie with adoring fans at Vivent Smart Home Arena. (Chris Detrick / The Salt Lake Tribune)

Leading up to start of the 2018-19 Utah Jazz season, Salt City Hoops is counting down the ten best player performances from last season. See games that just missed the top ten here and also check out #10, #9, #8#7, and #6 from previous weeks!

#5: Donovan Mitchell , December 1st, 2017

Jazz 114, Pelicans 108 in Salt Lake City

41 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 52% field goals, 6 of 12 from three, 9 of 11 free throws. [16.3 PIE, 28.7 GmSc]1

Context

After a rough start to the season that included the loss of All-NBA talent Rudy Gobert and a 7-11 record, the Jazz had finally started to win some games. Despite the Stifle Tower’s continued absence2, the Jazz had run off their first four-game winning streak of the season by relying on a spurt of high-octane offense, averaging over 115 points per game in that stretch.

Yet despite hosting the Pelicans at Vivint Smart Home Arena, this looked like a schedule loss for the Jazz. The wrong side of a back-to-back after flying home from Los Angeles, and a third game in four nights, saw them facing the best pair of bigs in the league in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. It was a horrible scenario for the Jazz to be without their best player. 

Why It Makes the List

Sometimes records tell their own story.

The Jazz franchise was born in 1974 in New Orleans, and since that point none of its rookies had ever scored more than 40 points in a game. Until Donovan Mitchell racked up 41.

Yet this is one of the cases where the number itself falls short of the importance of that night. One has to consider how Mitchell etched his name in the record books, as well as the reverberations this game produced.

The Jazz were sluggish, clearly fatigued by the schedule. Their defense continued to struggle in Gobert’s absence, and Davis was eating up out-sized and over-matched stretch fours Jonas Jerebko and Thabo Sefolosha3. A spiritless second quarter, where Utah scored only 16 points, resulted in a 43-55 halftime deficit. 

Then Mitchell decided to win the game himself — with a little help from head coach Quin Snyder.

Snyder committed to Mitchell as his primary point guard through most of the second half, effectively hitching the team’s fate to the shoulders of a rookie.

Mitchell responded with 29 second-half points, 17 in the fourth quarter alone.

Down the stretch, he repeatedly abused Cousins on his way to the hoop, making the most talented player on the court a liability. It reached the point where every person in that arena knew what was going to happen: Mitchell was getting the ball and would be the Jazz offense. And nobody was as cool with that as the Spida.

The Jazz learned they hadn’t just drafted a player. They’d drafted one of those very rare people who can become the moment. And when that happens to Mitchell, as it did in this game providing a window to the future4, nothing and nobody can stop him. 

Once the game was over and Jazz fans floated out of the arena high on the comeback victory and Mitchell’s smile5, the rookie took his spot atop the franchise’s record books — and exploded throughout the league.

Not long after, LeBron James himself would culminate the celebration of the Jazz rookie by crowning him “young king.” But Cousins started the anointing following the game, where he solemnly declared, “Utah got a star, man, for real.”   

After this game, few if any argued6.

Take Note

In the last five minutes of this neck-and-neck game, Mitchell scored 12 points and dished an assist while shooting four of five from the field, three of four from the free throw line, and making his only three attempt. He ended the season tied for 8th in the league in points scored in the clutch. 

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.
Clint Johnson

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3 Comments

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    Like most Jazz fans, I can’t believe our good luck in having Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert (and a whole group of other Jazz players) on our team to enjoy. It’s starting to feel a lot like the Jerry Sloan, Karl Malone, John Stockton Jazz era.

  2. Baryonic says:

    A well conceived and organized series, here. Love the analysis and content.

  3. Pingback: The 2nd Best Player Performance of 2017-18 | Salt City Hoops

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