With the exception of his fourth-quarter heroics in the Jazz's Game 4 win, it was a mostly miserable first round for Mitchell as the Houston Rockets eliminated Utah in five games. Mitchell shot only 32.1 percent from the floor in the series, finishing with a 12-point, 4-of-22 outing in Wednesday's 100-93 loss.
"Honestly, I got some looks that I wanted," said Mitchell, who had only one assist and five turnovers in Game 5 and 16 assists and 21 turnovers in the series. "A lot of it is just trying to attack. I'm not going to stop attacking. Obviously, you don't want to shoot 4-of-22 with five turnovers. It happened."
No player had attempted at least 20 shots from the floor and hit less than 20 percent in a playoff game since 2003, until it happened twice in this series. The Rockets managed to win Game 3 despite Harden's 3-of-20 performance. The Jazz couldn't overcome Mitchell's off night, which included him missing all nine of his 3-point attempts.
"It's funny, Dame [Lillard] said this yesterday: 'You don't succeed without failure, and you don't succeed without going through times like this,'" Mitchell said. "To have that so vividly in my head in a moment like this -- I can tell you that I'm upset, but I'm going to be better, simply put."
Mitchell, 22, is a rarity as a player so young who serves as the unquestioned go-to guy for a playoff team. He became the first rookie to lead a playoff team in scoring last year and boosted his scoring average significantly as a sophomore, averaging 23.8 points for the 50-win Jazz this season.
The Jazz front office attempted to ease the burden on Mitchell before the trade deadline by pursuing Mike Conley Jr., but talks with the Memphis Grizzlies ultimately fizzled. As a result, opponents could make Mitchell the clear focal point of their defensive game plan, as the Rockets did with Eric Gordon as his primary defender.
The Jazz didn't alleviate any pressure on Mitchell with their poor shooting during this series. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Jazz generated the most uncontested field goal attempts per game (39.6) so far in the playoffs but shot only 48 percent on them, including 26 percent from 3-point range.
"In a lot of ways, as Donovan goes at times, we go," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "I won't call it a burden, but it's a responsibility that I think he's shown [he embraces] time and time again, even for a young player like that, and to rise to the challenge. You're not always going to have great nights. You're not always going to make the shot. You're not always going to have it go your way.
"The thing I'm grateful for in having an opportunity to coach Donovan is his approach, and how he goes into it. For all of us, for myself and Donovan, anytime you have disappointment and adversity, hopefully you challenge that and get better."
Asked specifically what he planned to work on during the offseason, Mitchell said: "Better shape, I'll leave it at that." That could be considered an admission that the stocky Gordon overpowered Mitchell physically frequently during the series.
Mitchell's spectacular stretch in Game 4 -- a 13-point flurry during Utah's go-ahead 15-1 run at the start of the fourth quarter -- came with Gordon resting. Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni made sure that didn't happen in Game 5, tweaking Houston's rotation to have Gordon mirror Mitchell's minutes.
"Eric does a great job on him, as good as can be done, and he did another terrific job," D'Antoni said of Gordon, who stripped Mitchell with 54.8 seconds remaining and the Rockets clinging to a one-point lead.
Harden, who has endured some rough playoff exits in his career, expects this series to be a blip in Mitchell's career.
"First-round matchup, it's tough playing against us," said Harden, whom Mitchell considers a mentor. "He's confident. You see what he did last game. He's capable of taking over a game, and it's only his second year. Once he gets them years under his belt and more comfortable -- obviously, we know what his job is -- but once he gets more comfortable in his role and he knows that he's one of those guys, the sky's the limit for him."