Donovan Mitchell Leads Jazz to 2nd Round with Win vs. Russell Westbrook, Thunder

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - APRIL 27: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz reacts during game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2018 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

Donovan Mitchell might win 2017-18 Rookie of the Year.

He might not.      

But one thing is for certain after Friday night: Mitchell is a star, and he possesses the kind of talent that can single-handedly lift the Utah Jazz to wins in high-pressure playoff situations. 

After starting point guard Ricky Rubio left Game 6 in the first quarter with a left hamstring injury, Mitchell put the Jazz on his back, scored 38 points and willed Utah to a 96-91 closeout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Vivint Smart Home Arena. 

Mitchell, who went shot-for-shot with Russell Westbrook in an epic duel, produced a signature moment in the third quarter when he erupted for 22 points and put up the Jazz by nine entering the fourth. 

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Mitchell joined Alonzo Mourning (1993) and Michael Jordan (1985) as the only first-year players over the past 35 seasons to log multiple 30-point games in a playoff series. 

Mitchell also played his way into elite company and became the second rookie since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970 to drop at least 20 points in his first six postseason appearances, as NBA.com's stats database noted. 

As the Louisville product pushed his squad into the second round with aplomb, Twitter morphed into a chorus that sang a praiseworthy tune: 

Westbrook did everything in his power to counter Mitchell's scoring surge. He finished with a game-high 46 points, including 20 in the third quarter, but he didn't have the support necessary to help the Thunder force a Game 7. 

While Mitchell was flanked by a deep and effective supporting cast consisting of Joe Ingles (12 points, seven rebounds, five assists), Rudy Gobert (12 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks), Derrick Favors (13 points) and Alec Burks (11 points), Westbrook was largely left to operate alone. 

Paul George looked like a shell of the player who averaged 33 points over Games 3 and 4, and his hesitance to shoot was glaring down the stretch as he logged five points on 2-of-16 shooting in what may have been his final game in a Thunder uniform. 

George also came up empty on a potential game-tying three-point attempt with 18 seconds remaining when Gobert made contact on what appeared to be a clear shooting foul: 

Then there was Carmelo Anthony, who scored seven points and was put in a blender by Mitchell as the rookie repeatedly burned him after getting favorable switches on high-ball screens. As a result, head coach Billy Donovan was forced to bench Anthony, who finished a minus-19, for most of the final frame. 

Now, Anthony has a decision to make regarding his $27.9 million early termination option for next season and whether he wants to run things back with Westbrook following a turbulent trial run with the reigning MVP. 

The Jazz, meanwhile, are headed to the second round in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2007-08 and will try to give the top-seeded Houston Rockets all they can handle when their Western Conference Semifinals series gets underway Sunday afternoon at Toyota Center. 

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