SALT LAKE CITY — No matter what Russell Westbrook did, Donovan Mitchell had an answer.
It was shaping up to be a shootout between the NBA’s reigning MVP and one of its most promising young rookies, until Mitchell got into foul trouble and had to head to the bench.
The one-on-one, back-and-forth game of who can do it better between the two stars highlighted a gritty, sometimes uneven 96-91 victory for the Jazz in Game 6 of their first-round Western Conference showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Jazz won the series 4-2 and now head to Houston to take on the Rockets on Sunday.
“We’ll take a deep breath, enjoy the win tonight, and tomorrow try to get together and start our prep (for Houston),” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said following the Jazz win.
Mitchell finished with a postseason high of 38 points on 14-of-26 shooting. He also hit 5-of-8 from 3-point range.
“The things that Donovan did tonight, the team needed,” Snyder said. “That’s basically who he’s been. He’s a team-first guy.”
Westbrook scored a game-high 46 points on 18-of-43 shooting, including 7-of-19 from 3. He also had 10 rebounds and five assists.
Late in the third quarter, Mitchell answered Westbrook on every drive to the hoop or pull-up 3. And the fans took note, twice in the third quarter chanting “M-V-P” as Mitchell shot free throws in front of a sellout crowd of gold T-shirt-clad fans Friday night at Vivint Arena.
The chants and cheers erupted again with 6.9 seconds left, when Mitchell hit a pair of free throws to seal the Jazz’s victory.
“In that third quarter, obviously (Mitchell) was dynamic,” Snyder said.
“He got going from behind the (3-point) line,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said of Mitchell. “Give him credit. He made some hard shots throughout the course of the game.”
Mitchell picked up his fourth foul with just under two minutes left to play in the third quarter, and then got his fifth with 10 minutes to play in the fourth. The Jazz led 78-73 when he went to the bench.
The Jazz were up seven, 90-83, when Westbrook fired up a wide-open 3-pointer — and left it about a foot short, drawing chants of “airball” from the Jazz faithful. The fans had plenty to say to Westbrook throughout the night, booing or razzing him at every opportunity.
Another Westbrook airball with about two minutes to play and the Jazz leading 92-88 brought the home fans to their feet again, but the MVP quickly silenced the crowed with a corner 3 to cut Utah’s lead to 92-91.
“They’re a great team,” Mitchell said of the Thunder. “They play with heart and play with passion.”
The Jazz, meanwhile, played together, he said.
“We weathered the storm,” Mitchell said. “To beat a team like that, it says a lot.”
After the game, Westbrook complained about the fans, saying “here in Utah, a lot of disrespectful, vulgar things are said” to visiting players.
“I think it’s disrespectful and needs to be put to a stop,” he told reporters during a postgame news conference.
Mitchell later defended Jazz fans, saying taunting from opposing fans is “part of the game.”
“It happens everywhere,” he said. “I heard it last game (in Oklahoma City). … It’s part of the game, and it makes it fun. … I don’t think it’s just a Utah thing.”
The Jazz played most of the game without starting point guard Ricky Rubio, who left them game after just seven minutes with a strained hamstring. Rubio missed his only shot, a 3-pointer, but dished out three assists in his short appearance on the court. He had been averaging 16.8 points per game in the postseason.
“If he could have played, he would have,” Snyder said. “He just wasn’t able.”
Thunder forward Paul George, who entered the game averaging 28.6 points in the playoffs, scored just five points on 2-of-16 shooting, missing all six of his 3-point shots.
George, who completed his first season in Oklahoma City, was asked after the game about his future with the Thunder.
“I would love to remain a Thunder, but that’s what the summer is for. We’ll address that this summer,” he said.
Steven Adams had 19 points and 15 rebounds for the Thunder.
“Obviously we’re disappointed our season has come to an end, but give a lot of credit to the Jazz and the way they played tonight,” Donovan said.
The game started sluggishly for the Jazz, who scored just 18 points in the opening quarter. Utah trailed by as many as nine in the first half, before a pair of 3-pointers from Joe Ingles helped the Jazz even the score at the half, 41-41.
Ingles ended the night with 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Derrick Favors had 13 points and eight rebounds, and Rudy Gobert had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
“We obviously didn’t want to go back” to Oklahoma City for a Game 7,” Ingles said. “We wanted to finish in front of our home fans.”
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