USA TODAY Sports
As if it wasn’t tough enough for rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell that his Utah Jazz were dominated on their home floor by James Harden’s Houston Rockets in two Western Conference semifinal games these past couple days.
Now Mitchell finds himself having to address off-court issues with the Rockets, too.
As the 21-year-old walked toward the locker room at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Sunday after a Game 4 loss that put Houston up 3-1 in the series, Mitchell was caught on camera saying of the crafty Harden, “If that’s what he needs to be the (expletive) MVP. (Expletive) it.”
Mitchell discussed the matter with reporters in Houston on Tuesday, confirming that his frustration was born out of the way in which the presumptive MVP was officiated.
“Obviously he’s the MVP,” Mitchell said. “There’s no doubt about that. But you know, I’m pretty sure we’ve all said things that, you know, in the heat of the moment you get upset.
“You try so hard to fight back, and (with) what we did. You know, I’m definitely upset that (the video) came out that way, but like I said, can’t do anything about it. I understand that there are cameras everywhere. Now I’m getting used to that. Like I said, he is the MVP, and rightfully so. But I’m really focused on just going out here and seeing what we can do for Game 5 (in Houston on Tuesday night), and not really complaining about the calls. That’s not who I am.”
While Harden had fewer free throw attempts (eight) than his league-leading norm (10.1 per game in the regular season), there were two key plays late that appear to have infuriated Mitchell.
With just over two minutes left, Mitchell stole the ball from Harden and appeared to be pushed near his hips as he missed a layup that would have trimmed the lead to eight points. Mitchell, who then tried to go through Harden for the rebound and was called for a foul, argued with referee Billy Kennedy after the play.
Seventeen seconds later, Mitchell was called for a shooting foul on Harden that put Houston up 95-82 after he made the shot and the free throw.
A minute later, Mitchell fouled out when he went over P.J. Tucker’s back for a rebound.
Mitchell, it’s safe to say, is hardly the only one who wishes Harden didn’t get so many calls.
Consider this top five list of free throw leaders, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, from the past six seasons. The combined individual number of free throws attempted since the 2012-13 campaign …
- Harden – 4,726
- Russell Westbrook – 3,501
- DeMar DeRozan – 3,350
- DeMarcus Cousins – 3,286
- LeBron James – 3,201
Then again, it’s Harden’s overall play — 30.5 points, 8.3 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game in this series — that has caused the Jazz fits. Mitchell, who has been without fellow backcourt mate Ricky Rubio (hamstring) for the entire series, is averaging just 18.3 points (on 32.5% shooting overall and 24.1% from three-point range), 5.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds.
No matter what happens in Game 5, Mitchell has had a historic rookie campaign. Not only did he lead this Jazz team in scoring (20.5 points per game) en route to their fifth-place finish in the Western Conference during the regular season, but he is among elite company when it comes to rookie playoff production.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Mitchell (24.4 points per in the postseason) is currently the fourth-leading scorer among the nine rookies who averaged at least 20 points for teams that played at least 10 playoff games (trailing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, George Mikan and Elgin Baylor). The Jazz fans certainly showed their appreciation when Mitchell fouled out in Game 4, giving him a standing ovation.
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