Mitchell scores 38, Jazz beat Thunder 96-91 to win series
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By MATTHEW COLES
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Donovan Mitchell arrived at the arena wearing a white hoodie featuring the Mona Lisa. He left the court having authored a playoff masterpiece.
Even when the Jazz trailed in the first half, Utah coach Quin Snyder reminded Mitchell what he was capable of accomplishing.
"We're going to win this game and you're going to go off," Mitchell said his coach told him. "When you got a coach telling you that, your mindset changes and maybe you don't need to be nervous anymore."
Mitchell scored 38 points and the Jazz held off the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-91 in Game 6 on Friday night to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.
Though the game got tight, Mitchell looked like he was having the time of his life.
"I don't know if you've noticed but I smile through everything," said Mitchell, the third rookie over last 35 years to have multiple 30-point games in a playoff series, joining Alonzo Mourning and Michael Jordan.
At one point, Mitchell made 10 straight shots.
"I was in a different mode. It was crazy," Mitchell said.
After the game, an agitated Westbrook confronted a fan and took a swipe at his arm before security whisked him to the locker room.
"I don't confront fans. Fans confront me. Here in Utah, a lot of disrespectful, vulgar things are said to the players here," Westbrook said. "It's just a disrespect to the game and needs to be brought up. I'm tired of just going out and playing and then fans say what the hell they want to say."
The rookie and the MVP went back and forth in the second half, with Mitchell and the Jazz moving on to face the top-seeded Houston Rockets in a series that starts Sunday.
"For me, personally, beating a guy I looked up to and I model my game after is special," Mitchell said of Westbrook.
The Jazz took their biggest lead when Gobert hit two free throws to make it 86-73 with 7:04 remaining.
Westbrook's 3-pointer capped an 18-6 run and drew Oklahoma City to 92-91 with 1:28 to play.
"We got stops and Russ made big play after big play," Paul George said.
Favors hit a jumper for the Jazz but then the Thunder corralled five offensive rebounds in a frantic possession where Oklahoma City missed five shots. After a review, George faked Gobert into the air behind the 3-point line and leaned in but didn't get the call and shot an airball.
"I think it could have been called both ways," Gobert acknowledged.
Mitchell scampered down the court as the Thunder yelled at the officials and eventually made two free throws with 6.9 seconds left to clinch the game.
After struggling to score in the first two periods, the Jazz just gave the ball to Mitchell and set screen after screen to allow him to take advantage of Oklahoma City's switching defense.
In the third quarter, Mitchell scored 22 points to boost the Jazz into a double-digit lead. The rookie scored on electrifying drives to the basket, spinning shots in the lane and rainbow 3-pointers.
"He's been a team-first guy and sometimes the team needs a guy to take things on his shoulders. In the third quarter, obviously, he was dynamic," Snyder said.
The arena, awash in gold as the Jazz wore their yellow jerseys and every fan was given a gold T-shirt, roared as Mitchell held his arms aloft and beckoned for more.
Mitchell picked up his fifth foul with 10:01 to play but returned to finish the game midway through the fourth quarter.
Seven minutes into the game, Rubio began limping and left the game.
"This group needed to rally around him. There was just no other way," Snyder said.
Facing a team without a true point guard, the Thunder extended their defense and disrupted Utah's sets. The Jazz were shooting from unfamiliar spots and connected on just 39 percent in the first half.
Oklahoma City led by as many as nine before the Jazz tied it at 41 at halftime.
Thunder: Jerami Grant made his first two 3-pointers of the series, the only Thunder player to make one besides Westbrook. ... Other than a technical, the Thunder shot their first free throw with 6:36 left in the half. ... George had a playoff-low five points.
Jazz: Gobert got a technical foul in the second quarter for complaining. ... Favors went 1 for 7 from the free throw line and the Jazz shot 12 of 23 overall. ... Mitchell joined Lew Alcindor as the only rookies to score 20 points in each of their first six career playoff games over the last 50 years. ... Coming into the game, Mitchell and LeBron James shared the lead for most fourth-quarter points in the playoffs so far (44) but James had no points and Mitchell had six on Thursday.
Westbrook took 43 field goal attempts, with 19 coming from behind the line. Several ended up being airballs. Like Game 5, when Westbrook helped the Thunder overcome a 25-point deficit, the MVP said he wanted to do whatever he could to win the game. "Every night, I leave it all out on the floor. Sometimes you come up short," he said. "I don't really care what people think (about the number of shots he took)."
Alec Burks, who hadn't played more than three minutes in a game during the series, scored 11 points for the Jazz in 17 minutes. Burks said, "I'm fearless. I've been like that since I've been in the league. Mitchell added, "We have a phrase, `Stay ready - that way you don't have to get ready.' It showed tonight. He was confident."
Updated April 28, 2018