Donovan Mitchell missed.
Then, he made everyone take notice.
The Jazz rookie clanked a runner midway through the fourth quarter but followed his own miss with a putback dunk that sent shockwaves through Houston.
Even on a poor shooting night, Mitchell helped even Utah’s second-round series with the Rockets, 1-1. He dished a personal-best 11 assists in the Jazz’s 116-108 Game 2 win Wednesday.
When teams split the first two games of a best-of-seven series in one location, the team with home-court advantage has still won 61% of the series. The Rockets were better than the Jazz throughout the season, and one game doesn’t erase that.
But with Game 3 Friday in Utah, Houston must adjust to a rookie whose game looks progressively more well-rounded.
An inefficient gunner early in the season, Mitchell developed into a historically efficient rookie scorer. He even became the rare rookie offensive focal point to lead his team to the playoffs.
With starting point guard Ricky Rubio out injured, Mitchell showed his playmaking chops tonight. Though Mitchell shot just 6-for-21, including 2-for-8 on 3-pointers, he expertly read the Rockets’ defense and spread the ball all over the court.
It also helped his teammates knocked down the shots he helped generate. Led by Joe Ingles (27 points on 7-of-9 3-point shooting), Mitchell’s teammates shot 62% on 2-pointers and 54% on 3-pointers.
So much flowed through Mitchell, though. There’s a reason he was a game-high +13.
James Harden carried an even larger load for Houston with 32 points and 11 assists – many to Clint Capela (21 points and 11 rebounds). But the Rockets shot a dreadful 27% on 3-pointers, including 2-of-10 by Harden. Rudy Gobert played his usual stout defense inside (eventually).
Houston is capable of hitting a high offensive level more regularly. Only Utah did it tonight.
Falling behind by 19 in the first half didn’t help the Rockets. Amid too much defensive miscommunication and offensive laziness, they dug themselves a hole – then climbed out of it. Houston led with eight minutes left.
But the Jazz found a formula that worked tonight. Counting only points scored or assisted by Mitchell, Utah outscored the Rockets down the stretch.
The game featured testiness between P.J. Tucker and Mitchell, Gobert and Harden, Jae Crowder and Harden. This series is turning out to be more competitive than it appeared it’d be after Game 1.
Because Mitchell keeps rising to the escalating challenge facing him.