The Best Player Performance of 2017-18

October 17th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

Donovan Mitchell roars back to the ecstatic crowd in Salt Lake City in the Utah Jazz’s Game 6 elimination of the Oklahoma City Thunder, due largely to Mitchell’s 28 second-half points in what proved the most impressive performance by any Jazz player last season. (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

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#6#5#4 #3, and #2 from previous weeks!

#1: Donovan Mitchell, April 27, 2018

Jazz 96, Thunder 91 in Salt Lake City, Game 6 of the NBA Playoff’s First Round

38 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 54% field goals, 5 of 8 from three, 5 of 5 free throws. [17.8 PIE, 22.4 GmSc]1

Context

By the beginning of the third quarter in Game 5, this series was over. The Jazz had run off three consecutive wins, looked in all ways the deeper, more composed, and even more talented team, and were up by 25 in a series-clinching situation on the Thunder’s home court. Then, with 8:34 seconds left in that quarter, Russell Westbrook and Paul George eliminated any pretense of being part of a team and commenced a frantic two-man offensive.

The league had rarely seen the like. With both Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors hampered with five fouls, the paint opened for the first time all series and Oklahoma City’s All-League duo, fueled by frustration and humiliation, attacked relentlessly. Westbrook and George combined for 35 of their team’s 40 field goal attempts closing out the game, and scored 54 of the Thunder’s final 61 points.

For the first time, the Jazz looked shaken. They looked young and inexperienced. They looked the type of team that just might lose a 3-1 series lead. 

So they returned home to Vivint Smart Home Arena, for Game 6, with wide consensus being that the series was on the line.   

Why It Makes the List

This wasn’t the best game of Donovan Mitchell’s magical rookie season by many measures. It was neither his most statistically dominant game2 nor his most complete3.

But time matters. Place matters.

The moment, matters. 

At halftime of a tied game in the season’s defining contest, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder didn’t merely allow Mitchell to claim the moment. He assigned it to him.

“We’re going to win this game,” Snyder told Mitchell, “and you’re going to go off.”

The Spida scored 22 points the following quarter.

Westbrook, the league’s defending MVP, was in full force and fury, taking an amazing 29 second-half shots and scoring 31. But he shot only 38-percent from the floor and had more turnovers (three) than assists (two) as the Thunder ground their way to 50 second half points.

Mitchell countered everything the MVP did, and sometimes one-upped him. He had 28 points on 56-percent shooting. Three of five from long range compared to Westbrook’s 6-of-16(!!!). Each made it to the free throw line five times, where Westbrook missed two and Mitchell nailed every one. The rookie even matched Westbrook’s assists in the half while turning the ball over only once.

At one point, Mitchell even made 10 consecutive shots.

There are times when a special person arrives at the right place with the right performance to transcend standard measures. In eliminating the Thunder, Mitchell tore up just about everything and re-wrote it: expectations and records, aspirations and definitions, what a superteam means and what is possible for a team that really is all about the team.

Mitchell’s Game 6 defined the Jazz of 2017-18 and opened a completely new future. That’s why it was easily the best performance of the year4.

Take Note

In this game, Mitchell joined Michael Jordan and Alonzo Morning as the only rookies to have multiple 30-points games in a playoff series in the last 35 years. He also became only the second rookie in half a century to score better than 20 in his first six playoff games. The other? Lew Alcindor, better known as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

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.

2 Comments

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    Donovan should also get the season award for the best performance of 2017-2018 (with Rudy a close second–perhaps they could be co-MVPs).

    • Clint Johnson says:

      It’s an interesting debate as to who was the team’s MVP, Mitchell or Gobert. I think one’s answer says a lot about what they think is valuable in a team.

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