The crowd roared as he led his team out of the tunnel.
Twenty-five points and 48 minutes of game time later, they gave him a standing ovation as he walked off the court.
Donovan Mitchell is back.
And so are the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz bounced back to grab 141-129 Game 2 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night, leveling this first-round playoff series 1-1.
“Tonight was a good start,” Mitchell said. “But it’s 1-1 and we have to continue to build on that.”
In his return to the court, Mitchell led his team in scoring (on 8-of-19 shooting over 26 minutes) in his first game action since badly spraining his right ankle on April 16.
“Any time you’ve been out for a significant period of time, I think there’s a tendency to really try to put a stamp on the game. But I thought he really let the game come to him,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “He really played within himself. I thought he just made the right plays. Obviously, it’s good to have him back. It certainly changes our team.”
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) May 27, 2021
Mitchell opened the night by hitting on his first attempt, a 26-foot 3-pointer, and scored 12 of his team-high 25 points in the first.
“With Mitchell back, obviously he’s a tone-setter,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said.
Mitchell said he felt good after his first game action in over a month.
“I feel good. I’ve put myself through kind of treacherous situations to be back and ready for playoff intensity,” Mitchell said. “I feel better than I anticipated.”
Mitchell’s minutes were limited, but his impact was not.
“For us, he gives us his spirit as well,” Snyder said. “There’s a competitive spirit he has, and you can feel it when he plays. That’s something I think our guys feed off of.”
another angle of the block?
yes, pls. pic.twitter.com/eN5gkaKmWE
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) May 27, 2021
The Jazz had six other players score in double-digits Wednesday:
Mike Conley — 20 points and 15 assists
Rudy Gobert — 21 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks
Bojan Bogdanovic — 18 points and 3 boards
Jordan Clarkson — 16 points and 6 boards
Joe Ingles — 14 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds
Royce O’Neale — 14 points and 8 rebounds
“The biggest thing is, as a team, we just did a lot of good things tonight,” Mitchell said. “It made my job easier.”
The Jazz built up a 22-point lead in the first half but found themselves in another fight with the young Grizzlies after being on the wrong end of a 43-29 third quarter. Memphis’ Ja Morant scored 13 of his game-high 47 points in the period. Grizzly Dillon Brooks added 11 in the frame.
“They had more than an efficient third quarter. That first six minutes was terrific,” Snyder said. “Ja and Dillon, they’re so aggressive and confident when they’re attacking. If they see lanes to the basket, they’re going to drive those seams and get on the rim.”
The Utah Jazz earned the NBA’s No. 1 overall seed thanks in no small part to their success at Vivint Arena this season. They had the league’s best home record during the regular season. They won 24 games straight games in Salt Lake City to start 2021.
They never lost consecutive games at home during the regular season, and they weren’t interested in changing that Wednesday.
In front of 14,200 fans decked out in yellow, orange and red, Conley and Gobert took over in the fourth. The Jazz’s All-Star center had 10 points in the final frame, while the veteran point guard went for eight points and eight assists to close things out.
“I think we just tried to stay locked in,” Gobert said. “The good thing is we kept attacking them, right back at them.”
The series heads to Memphis. Game 3 tips off Saturday at 7:30 p.m.