The Utah Jazz defeated the Boston Celtics last night, 122-108. Donovan Mitchell scored 36 points on 12-of-23 shooting, adding another outstanding performance to a season chock-full of them. The Jazz have lost one game since January 8. Utah's combination of deadly shooters, Rudy Gobert's defense, and Mitchell's stardom has propelled it to the top of the Western Conference with no signs of slowing down.
Last night's game was a nationally-broadcast affair, shown on TNT. Per usual, the Inside the NBA crew gave the pre- and post-game analysis. Tuesday night marked the first time the Jazz appeared on TNT since January 21, a night remembered because of an uncomfortable exchange between Mitchell and Shaquille O'Neal.
That evening, Mitchell also scored 36 points in a victory, and as a reward was put on postgame with the Inside the NBA team. Shaq told Mitchell he didn't think the Jazz star had what it takes to lift his team to the next level, then asked for his reaction. Mitchell simply said "aight."
It was not one of Inside the NBA's finest moments and highlighted one of the glaring flaws of the show as far as it pertains to the actual basketball analysis taking place on air, specifically by Shaq. The studio show is widely beloved by fans and media alike but faced a bout of criticism for how Shaq handled the Mitchell interview.
None of that stopped the big man from hopping on air midway through the show Mitchell put on Tuesday and unashamedly taking credit for Mitchell's elite play of late.
I think many people might take issue with Shaq's definition of "constructive criticism." Flat-out telling someone you think they aren't elite then asking for their reaction is... certainly criticism! But not exactly of the constructive variety. There also might be a former teammate or 10 to disagree with Shaq's claim that he was always the best leader out there constantly trying to motivate his players.
Moving on from that, let's see if Shaq is right and check the stats here. Maybe he did motivate Mitchell?
Here are his numbers for the season through January 21: 24.3 PPG, 4.9 assists per game, 43.8 percent shooting from the floor, 40.8 percent shooting from deep, and 84.8 percent from the free-throw line.
Here are his per-game numbers after January 21: 23.5 PPG, 5.4 assists per game, 43.4 percent shooting from the floor, 44.1 percent shooting from deep, and 82.1 percent from the free-throw line. Mitchell missed two games in that timespan due to a concussion.
Shaq is fun and all, but it's times like these where the bit gets tired. Mitchell was very clearly unbothered by a retired player-turned-TV-personality giving him unconstructive criticism in front of a national audience. Simply look at his face in the interview. Nobody in their right mind would credit Shaq for anything the Jazz and Mitchell have done over the last three weeks.
But yes, the Jazz should thank Shaq for (checks notes) boosting Mitchell's efficiency from three and curse him for lowering Mitchell's PPG average by less than one point. You're welcome, Utah.