How jazz star Donovan Mitchell drastically ousted the Clippers’ worst defenders in a 45-point blast
If all superstars have one thing in common, it’s their showmanship. Tagging someone is not enough. Top NBA players love to play with their food before they eat it, pounding the rock on the perimeter and dancing the isolation dance before ending the defender’s misery with a pullover.
This is the most frustrating universal trait among elite ball handlers. They have worked hard to find their ideal match, and yet they end up settling for unnecessary bad shots. Here’s LeBron James isolating Devin Booker in… a midrange jumper?
Stephen Curry didn’t bother to attack Jabari Parker on this switch. Instead, he waited for Payton Pritchard to rush for the brace before throwing a 3-pointer.
The list is lengthened increasingly. Here’s James Harden settling against the Warriors in the 2018 Western Conference Finals.
Harden can jump backwards against anyone. James can whistles against smaller defenders. These are the superstars we’re talking about here. They can generate positive results in almost any situation. But all they do is make their life difficult. This defeats the purpose of finding a switch.
The goal, after all, is to find a workable match-up. Get a big one on the perimeter and any star ball player worth his salt should be able to blow through him. Find a little guard and you can intimidate him at the station. The sooner you attack, the better. Every second you spend dribbling in place is a second the defense can use to adjust to your advantage, shifting gears, doubling or zoning or whatever makes sense in that specific situation. Speed is a defense’s worst enemy when changing.
This is due in large part to the confusion generated by a switch. Even when done correctly, it requires communication. Advocates have to process the change and therefore can only do so as quickly as they can think through the decision. The gap between the decision to change, the communication of that decision and its execution are windows that offensive players can take advantage of.
And that’s exactly what Donovan Mitchell did on his 45-point outing against the Los Angeles Clippers as the Utah Jazz claimed a 112-109 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals on Tuesday. . Mitchell refused to offer exhausted defense even for a moment’s rest in a dominant second half marked by, you guessed it, a decisive hunt for change. Reggie Jackson was his first victim, and by the time he rounded Royce O’Neale, Mitchell had already separated him from Kawhi Leonard and ran to the basket for a layup.
For a stretch in the third quarter, Mitchell started going to Ivica Zubac. The Clippers rarely ask him for a straight pass, but Mitchell is too good a mid-range shooter to let Zubac aggressively drop into the basket. They are trying to split the difference here by bringing Zubac to the 3 point line, but pushing him back into the paint in the hopes of eliminating the drape. Mitchell against by deceiving Zubac with the false pump.
But Mitchell saved his best job for a poor Clipper. Almost every time on the floor in the fourth quarter, the Clippers started possessions with Leonard stalking Mitchell. These possessions invariably ended with Mitchell’s discovery and destruction of Luke Kennard. Much like he did with Jackson, he splits defenders on this play before the switch fully adjusts to come down for a layup.
He manages to lull Kennard into a false sense of security on this piece before blowing up another layup for him.
In an ideal world, Mitchell would attack every switch the way he does first: before it’s even finished. Basketball is rarely that simple, but even when Mitchell couldn’t attack as immediately as he would like, he did so in the most decisive way he could. When he makes his move on this sweater, it’s quick and deadly: a crossover in a step back in one fluid motion.
The Clippers have tried several alternative means of containing Mitchell. Leonard sees this screen coming and tries to deny it by tilting his body between Mitchell and O’Neale and moving closer to Mitchell. It’s excessive play and Mitchell knows it, so he turns around Leonard and manages to shoot free throws.
Leonard and Kennard try to get back to their optimal clashes after this screen, but Mitchell calmly sinks the rider before they can do so. The whole footage goes so quickly that we miss most of it with the camera zoomed in on Mitchell.
It was a precise and deadly dissection. The Clippers put poor defensemen on the ground for offense and Mitchell punished them for it mercilessly, not giving them time to send help or put the defense behind the lag. This is exactly how a star like Mitchell should attack switching defenses, and it gave the Jazz a 1-0 lead over the Clippers.