Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell walked back comments he made after a Game 4 loss suggesting Houston Rockets counterpart James Harden’s presumptive MVP status is too reliant on referees.
“Obviously he’s the MVP. There’s no doubt about that,” Mitchell told reporters on Tuesday. “I’m pretty sure we’ve all said things in the heat of the moment when you get upset. It was more so just about myself fouling out. You try so hard to fight back and what we did, but I’m definitely upset that it came out that way. I can’t do anything about it. I understand that there are cameras everywhere. I’m getting used to that. Like I said, he is the MVP and rightfully so, but I’m really focused on going out there and seeing what we can do for Game 5 and not really complaining about the calls. That’s not who I am.”
What did Mitchell say about Harden after Game 4?
After losing to the Rockets 100-87 in Utah, falling behind in their first-round series 3-1, Mitchell turned his ire toward Harden within earshot of cameras and reporters as he retreated to the locker room.
Donovan Mitchell walking into the locker room after the Jazz’ Game 4 loss to Houston: “If that’s what he needs to win the MVP, so be it.” #HOUatUTA
— Jake Edmonds (@JakeKUTV) May 7, 2018
The actual quote was a little more colorful.
“If that’s what he needs to win f***ing MVP, f*** it,” Mitchell said in the tunnel after Sunday’s loss.
And the NSFW episode was caught on camera:
Donovan Mitchell was hot after Utah's loss: "That's what he needs to be fu*king MVP" on James Harden
— Fanatics View (@fanaticsview) May 7, 2018
Why was Mitchell upset about the officiating?
Mitchell scored 25 points, helping the Jazz trim a 19-point lead to five in the fourth quarter, but he picked up four of his six fouls in the final frame — two of which came against Harden. Harden attempted eight free throws in the game, right around his average (and just one more than Mitchell).
It’s unclear if there was any one play in particular that set Mitchell off, but the most egregious call Harden benefited from on Sunday involved Jazz teammate Dante Exum late in the first quarter:
So this is where the Harden haters will chime in for sure. His left arms clamps Exum’s and the refs kinda have to call something here pic.twitter.com/MyE0gtCPt4
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) May 7, 2018
Mitchell isn’t the first person to suggest Harden benefits from officiating. Everybody from Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart to Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr has taken shots veiled or otherwise at the superstar treatment and fancy footwork that help Harden become unguardable.
You might also recall that Harden recently smacked the phone of a fan who called him “the worst flopper in the NBA” midway through Utah’s Game 2 victory last week.
So, what now?
Well, for starters, Mitchell is probably going to wait until he gets behind the closed locker room doors before he starts unleashing expletive-laden rants about the NBA’s presumptive MVP. Then, he faces the tall task of stopping Harden in Game 5 in Houston on Tuesday night. Harden is averaging 29.7 points, 7.8 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game in the playoffs. He’s also drawing 5.8 fouls a night — third among players still remaining in the postseason behind LeBron James and Joel Embiid.
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