SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell was not sure if an evening that included a career high in points, a win over the best-ranked team in the league and a Gatorade shower amounted to the best game of his career.
On Saturday night, the second-year guard finished with 46 points, including two clutch 3-pointers down the stretch and a pair of free throws late in the fourth quarter that solidified the Utah Jazz’s 115-111 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Mitchell was the first Jazz player with a 45-point regular-season game since Karl Malone in 1998.
Still, Mitchell was not sure. It certainly wasn’t the best game of his career, he said. He could think of more potent performances that he had during the playoffs last season.
But in the regular season?
“In the regular season, I would say yes,” Mitchell said.
The game didn’t start pretty for Utah.
With Malcolm Brogdon, Eric Bledsoe, Sterling Brown and George Hill all out for the Bucks with a myriad of aches and injuries, coach Mike Budenholzer rolled out one of the largest lineups of the millennium. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Budenholzer’s lineup that included four players who measure 6-foot-10 or taller was the tallest starting lineup since 2003.
“It threw me off,” Mitchell said of the “MegaBucks.” “I think it threw a lot of us off.”
The discombobulation that Mitchell described is part of what allowed the Bucks to open the game on an 11-0 run. The new-look Bucks bamboozled Rudy Gobert, who finished with the worst plus-minus (-36) in a win since the NBA began tracking plus-minus 20 years ago.
“I just got my ass beat,” Gobert said with a shrug after the game.
After building a 20-6 lead in the first quarter, Milwaukee began to sputter, narrowly hanging on to the lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Bucks were able to regain control of the game, and their seven-point halftime lead ballooned to a 17-point lead with just under 10 minutes remaining. Entering Saturday night’s game, teams that trailed by 17 in the fourth quarter this season were 3-400.
“Then we came back with our own push,” Mitchell said. “We realized they’re 6-foot-10, but they can’t run. They got the height, but we can outrun them. I think that is really what got us going.”
From that point until the final buzzer, Mitchell made more field goals by himself (7-of-10) than the Bucks did as a team (6-of-20). The Jazz went on to outscore the Bucks 42-21 in the final 9:39 of regulation, and Mitchell finished with 19 fourth-quarter points.
“Donovan was special today,” Kyle Korver said. “He hit amazing shots, clutch shots, tough shots.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way for the Bucks with 43 points and 14 rebounds on the second night of a back-to-back.
Perhaps it wasn’t the most dominant game of Mitchell’s career, but he is certain about one thing: “I’m framing the game ball.”