SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell was told he wasn’t going to do well when he went to a top prep school; he was told that he wasn’t going to get much time at Louisville; he was told he wasn’t going to be drafted.
Mitchell has been told a lot of things, so when Shaquille O’Neal told Mitchell he didn’t have what it takes to get to the next level during an awkward postgame interview, Mitchell had a short response.
If it was up to Mitchell, Utah’s 129-118 win over New Orleans on Thursday at Vivint Arena wouldn’t have been about what the league’s most prominent commentators said about him; it was Utah’s seventh straight win, the longest streak in the league this season, and it showed just how dominant the Jazz could be.
Utah (11-4) erased a 16-point deficit like it was nothing, had big nights from Mike Conley (20 points, six assists), Jordan Clarkson (19 points off the bench) and Rudy Gobert (12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks), but yet, the game took a backseat to the commentary surrounding it.
Donovan’s response when Shaq tells him he doesn’t have what it takes to get to the next level:
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 22, 2021
During TNT’s halftime report on Thursday, Kenny Smith asked the “Inside the NBA” panel if Mitchell was simply an All-Star or a star that could lead the team to a championship. O’Neal said Mitchell would be best as a “second or third option,” and Charles Barkley said that, while an excellent scorer, Mitchell doesn’t impact the game in any other way.
Based on his play, it sure seemed Mitchell was watching — or at least heard — the broadcast.
Mitchell scored 13 points, grabbed four rebounds and handed out two assists in the third quarter, alone.
Let’s look at just a few of the things he did in the third quarter that didn’t include scoring:
- He made a skip pass three-quarters court to Joe Ingles to give an easy layup.
- He added another highlight assist, winding a sidearm pass across the court for a Royce O’Neale three.
- He sprinted from just above the break toward an air-balled three that was bouncing out of bounds, lunging past New Orleans’ Steven Adams, who was standing on the baseline, and somehow knocked it off Adams to save a possession.
That last play was simply unbelievable to watch — so much so that Adams argued the call enough to get a technical foul, and his head coach Stan Van Gundy wasn’t far behind him, picking up his second of the game. With one hustle play, Mitchell got the Jazz two free throws and a coach ejected.
Oh, and he scored plenty, too, even hitting his 600th career 3-pointer — reaching the mark faster than any other player in NBA history. In all, Mitchell finished with 36 points, seven rebounds and five assists on Thursday to continue his impressive run of play.
Over the course of the winning streak, Mitchell is averaging 27.9 points, 4.9 assists, 4.3 rebounds and shooting 51.8% from three.
I’m not convinced TNT wasn’t on in the Jazz locker room. Sheesh, Don. pic.twitter.com/7kIst68VHT
— Ryan Miller (@millerjryan) January 22, 2021
So maybe Mitchell didn’t see the broadcast; maybe he was just playing like he has for much of the season — it’s pretty apparent Shaq, Chuck and Co. didn’t see many of those other games. Mitchell’s game isn’t free of criticism — far from it — but saying he’s nothing but a scorer is lazy, at best.
“We’re on a seven-game win streak right now. We’re playing good basketball. I hate to take a win like this and make it about what they said about me,” Mitchell said of the talk on the national broadcast. “You look at how we played and guarded, like, I’m happy.
“I’m here to play basketball and be the best teammate and best player I can be,” he continued. “They don’t like it, they don’t like it. I’m not trying to make this about me. This is team basketball. At the end of the day we’re winning, we’re doing good things.”
His teammates collectively shook their heads at the comments, too. Conley said he’s been a big fan of Mitchell even before he joined the Jazz, and thought labeling a player incapable of being a championship-level player in his fourth season was laughable.
“Seeing the way he’s grown over the last few seasons, even before I was here, his progression has been great,” Conley said. “I don’t know how you can make a statement regarding that and his progress at such a young age.
“He’s a guy that’s gotten better every year. He’s added things to his game, and he’ll continue to get better. We like to block out all the noise here, but obviously, some things leak through, you hear it and it just motivates Don even more. So I’m thankful for that and I know he’ll be better.”
As for Gobert, who has also come under odd scrutiny from O’Neal this season, he shrugged it all off. To the Jazz, it’s clear the TNT commentators haven’t watched them a lot. So they’re hoping to force them to.
“If we keep winning games, they’re gonna have to watch us anyway,” Gobert said. “Hopefully they get to watch us until July. And then they could call us whatever they want.”