Brad Rock: Playoff load catches up with Mitchell as Game 4 nears

Playoff load catches

SALT LAKE CITY — Ricky Rubio’s return date is still ahead. Derrick Favors sprained an ankle Friday in Game 3 against Houston. But the Jazz’s biggest concern following their blowout loss was where did Donovan Mitchell go?

Even he doesn’t seem to know.

As he scanned the box score, he glumly noted his plus-minus was a sub-zero minus-31.

“I didn’t really do much as a whole, like I wasn’t there,” Mitchell said.

The player who has been carrying the Jazz throughout the playoffs was MIA for the first time. Utah is down 2-1 in the series that resumes Sunday at Vivint Arena. It was bound to happen. Mitchell is only human. Still, people had become accustomed to him putting up big numbers.

Now he has a poor game in the books.

“That can’t happen any more,” Mitchell said. “In fact, I would have been better off just not showing up — and that’s what I did. I didn’t show up at all for my teammates. I’ll fix it.”

In reality, he might not be able to fix this. Houston changed its spacing, upped its aggression and forced Mitchell into taking uncomfortable shots.

In fairness, Mitchell has been carrying a burden the size of Texas. He has played some point guard — not his natural position — to alleviate the absence of Rubio, who has been out with a hamstring injury. Mitchell is the Jazz’s solitary scoring star. Yet he remains a rookie. He made just four of 16 shots on Friday, and was 2-7 on 3-pointers, with three turnovers.

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He has been remarkably consistent in the postseason, averaging 26 points and 6.4 rebounds until Friday’s 10-point performance. A minute and a half into the game, coach Quin Snyder called a timeout.

“We didn’t play well, and for us, the margin for error is not that great,” Snyder said.

“I didn’t think anybody really did their job defensively,” Snyder said, eventually concluding, “There wasn’t the urgency we needed.”

This, for Mitchell, was a playoff first. Friday was only the second time in the postseason he failed to get 20 points. He scored 17 in Game 2 against Houston, but offset that with 11 assists. Still, in the last two games, he has gone just 10-27 from the field. He is 5-18 against Houston from 3-point range.

“I’ve just got to accept it,” Mitchell said. “I think the biggest thing is my mindset has always been aggressive. Now they’re playing us in a way that we’ve got to be able to make some passes that I didn’t make the entire game.”

Mitchell has logged more minutes than anyone on the team during the playoffs. Houston knows the Jazz offense, in large part, must come from him.

“They are a good defensive team,” Snyder said. “They’ve been that all year. They raise their level, which is what happened. We weren’t able to get some of the things that we usually get. I think we kind of maybe thought it might be easier than it was.”

As a famous coach once said, they got caught jackpotting around.

Mitchell’s numbers are slightly worrisome for the Jazz. In the first game against Houston he made just one of seven 3-pointers and was 9-22 from the field. In Game 2, he made two of eight treys and six of 21 attempts overall. Friday, as he put it, he didn’t show up.

There’s not a lot the Jazz can do. They’re overmatched. Mitchell’s shot selection was iffy most of Game 3. With Favors and Rubio on injury protocol, the Jazz are running low on healthy players. Houston, on the other hand, is happy and healthy, looking like the league’s best team.

“You’ve just got to accept it. It happens — anything that happens,” Mitchell said with a sigh. “As I said earlier today, it’s not as easy as it looks.”

It didn’t look easy at all on Friday. It looked darn near impossible.

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