A season ago, as the first round of the NBA playoffs came to an end, Donovan Mitchell lay on the floor of an empty arena, exhausted and devastated having let a 3-1 series lead slip away.
It was a feeling Mitchell didn’t want to experience again, and a moment that has motivated him all season long.
On Wednesday night, the All-Star guard and his teammates walked off the floor to a standing ovation, a first-round win secured, the first step toward their ultimate goal completed.
“Having last year be so fresh, definitely helped,” Mitchell said after the Jazz had eliminated the Memphis Grizzlies, cruising to a 126-110 Game 5 win at Vivint Arena. “Having that hurt still there definitely helped with tonight.”
That hurt is why the Jazz wanted to set the tone early in Wednesday’s elimination game. Utah put 47 points on the board in the first quarter, hitting nine 3-pointers and jumping out to a 20-point lead.
Mitchell closed the first half with a pair of highlight-reel 3-pointers, one over Memphis’ Dillon Brooks and the other, as time expired, over Jonas Valanciunas.
Mitchell finished with game-high 30 points — 26 of them in the first half — to go along with 10 assists and six rebounds. All-Star center Rudy Gobert had 23 points and 15 rebounds. And Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson had 24 points off the bench.
“Memphis is a very tough team. … Every game was a battle for us and we definitely got better by facing this team,” Gobert said. “There are always going to be doubters. But we know where we want to be as a team, and we know the work we’ve put in. We know we’re only going to keep getting better.”
The Jazz would lead by as much as 35 on the night before the Grizzlies began to chip away at the lead late in the contest. It was Utah’s fourth straight win after the Grizzlies grabbed Game 1 in Salt Lake City.
“I really like that we were able to lock in Game 2 after losing Game 1. We had some guys that played through fatigue and some guys that came up big,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “Memphis is a really good team. They don’t make it easy on you. They’re big. They’re obviously well coached. They’re excellent in the half-court.”
Jazz point guard Mike Conley scored seven points but played only 11 minutes before leaving the game with soreness in his right hamstring.
“In the first quarter, I felt a little tug or whatever in my hammy. I came to the bench and made the staff aware and told them I’d try to run and play through it,” Conley said. “It kept getting sorer, so they decided to pull me. Seeing how the game was going and knowing that we might have a couple days now before our next series, just pulled the plug on tonight and we’ll see how things go tomorrow.”
Conley missed a stretch of games late in the season with a hamstring injury. The veteran point guard said he was “frustrated” after Wednesday’s game but it was unclear how serious his situation was.
“There’s no definitive diagnosis right now,” Conley said. “They’ll wait for tomorrow and reassess where we’re at and go from there. Obviously, it’s the playoffs, so my mindset is that I’m going to be ready—that’s the visual that I’ve put in front of myself. But we’ll see what happens in the next few days and be smart about how we approach it going into this next series.”
The Jazz now await either the Dallas Mavericks or the L.A. Clippers. In the meantime, the Jazz will celebrate a first-round victory, but not a job done.
“We didn’t come this far just to win one series,” Mitchell said. “Savor the moment and enjoy it. But we still have a job to do.
The Jazz now await the winner of the Mavericks-Clippers series. Second-round tickets go on sale Thursday at noon.