Donovan Mitchell had not yet left the Chesapeake Energy Arena floor after Utah’s 107-99 Game 5 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
And yet the star Jazz rookie gave OKC fans a glimpse of how brash and confident he can be.
“Hey, we’ll see y’all next year,” Mitchell said in a video that surfaced on Twitter in the moments following OKC’s win. Mitchell’s words imply the Jazz, who hold a 3-2 series lead, have no intention of returning to Oklahoma City.
It also shows their confidence level.
Yes, Utah blew a 71-46 lead to the Thunder. Yes, Russell Westbrook carried OKC with 45 points and 15 rebounds. Yes, the Jazz looked frazzled in the face of Oklahoma City’s onslaught.
But this is a proud bunch and a confident bunch. It’s a team that rebounded from a 19-28 start to the season, a team that feels consistently counted out going all the way back to the beginning of the season.
So while Wednesday’s loss to the Thunder stings, the Jazz know they have a chance to close out Oklahoma City at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
“We’re going home,” Utah forward Jae Crowder said. “We feel that we’ll be fine.”
The Jazz do have reason for optimism. It took an all-time great performance from Westbrook and a great performance from Paul George for the Thunder to generate enough points to overtake Utah.
It took foul trouble for Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors for the lane to open sufficiently enough to allow Westbrook and George to be successful on their forays to the rim. And it took the Jazz completely stalling in their offense, turning over the ball and missing shots for the Thunder to find enough stops on the defensive end.
In other words, Wednesday was the perfect comeback for Oklahoma City. And it was the perfect meltdown for the Jazz.
“We stopped playing defense,” Mitchell said. “We stopped getting back. The offense got stagnant. They made adjustments, and we didn’t make the right adjustments back. We will watch the film and figure out what went wrong. But we stopped getting back in transition, and they just fed off that.”
The Jazz feel confident they can defend better than they did in the second half Wednesday night. Keeping Gobert on the floor is essential. The Jazz had a robust 89.9 defensive rating in Game 5 with him on the court. Their defensive rating was 133.5 with him on the bench, which pretty much means the Thunder were scoring on every single possession.
More than anything, Utah knows it needs to react better to playing with a big lead. This is the second time this season the Jazz have blown a big advantage to the Thunder. But the Jazz have earned a home game with the chance to close out a series. They lost Game 6 to the Los Angeles Clippers at home in the first round last season. They know they have to seize the opportunity Friday night.
“It’s the playoffs,” Utah forward Derrick Favors said. “We have to be mentally strong and the game isn’t over until it’s zero on the clock. I think we kind of relaxed in the second half and they got going.”