Gambling for perfection: 3 ways OKC Thunder can stop Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell, Paul George, OKC Thunder (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
Donovan Mitchell, Paul George, OKC Thunder (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images) /


OKC Thunder fans are facing their worst nightmare. Faced with a 3-1 hole, the team must find a way to stop Donovan Mitchell.

It’s a weird feeling to be 3-1 down in the playoffs.

On one hand, you have no choice but to be perfect. One wrong step, and you’ll be left with a long summer ruminating over what could have been.

On the other hand, you must gamble with even higher stakes, if only to earn another day to die. For the OKC Thunder, crunch time is now.

Thus far, the Utah Jazz have moulded themselves into precisely the kind of offensive puzzle the OKC Thunder weren’t built to unlock. Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Gobert and even Derrick Favours have all taken turns to twist the knife into OKC’s evidently soft underbelly. Because of Utah’s egalitarian approach, funnelling resources towards one player only seems to switch up the team’s proverbial Pandora’s box of problems.

But, follow the trail close enough, and the head of the snake starts to show. Averaging 27.5 points per game in the series, Utah’s fearless rookie, Donovan Mitchell, has revealed himself as the cornerstone to Utah’s foundation. The game film shows how exactly to slow the ROY candidate down.

Planning issue

All season long, the OKC Thunder have struggled to nail down their defensive rotations. Now, they are getting killed for it.

Look how simple Donovan Mitchell’s job is. Westbrook actually makes the right play switching out onto O’Neale, because it allows Steven Adams to get back onto Derrick Favours. But no one calls the switch out. Alex Abrines hesitates before rotating, and it’s a simple splash for the Jazz.

Personnel issue

Five weeks ago, I wrote about Corey Brewer’s poor defensive fundamentals getting shown out during the playoffs. Sadly, I was right.

It’s a fairly straightforward play here. With Adams in perfect position to prevent penetration,  Brewer still had the advantage coming around the screen. But he’s out of control and drags his foot across Mitchell’s body. It’s only a sliver of error, but that’s more than enough for the rookie to attack off-the-catch.

Permutations issue

With the Thunder down 16, Billy Donovan decided to experiment. He put Josh Huestis in for Corey Brewer. Surprisingly, the results were neat.

Josh Huestis was always the natural heir to Andre Roberson. His fundamentals aren’t as tight – just look how easily Donovan Mitchell can shake and bake him into backpedalling.

But, his natural athleticism and wingspan help compensate for his shortcomings. Given Corey Brewer’s struggles, Josh Huestis should really see the floor a whole lot more in Game 5.

The chips are all-in

The writing is all over the wall. Donovan Mitchell needs to be stopped. For starters, that means making sure defensive rotations are watertight. The next step is to switch Brewer for Huestis.

After that, it could mean something even more drastic – like cutting Carmelo Anthony’s game time. After all, when he’s shooting 0-for-6 from three, there’s really not much justification to sit Jerami Grant in his place.

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Whatever the case, the baseline is clear. Billy Donovan cannot afford to stand pat. Of course, it’s much easier said than done when it comes to nicking the sweet spot between perfection and adventure. But, Donovan Mitchell has bloodied the OKC Thunder’s nose this entire series. 3-1 down, there’s just simply no choice but to roll the dice.

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.