SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell sat on the scorer’s table with something resembling a smirk on his face.
Maybe it was smile from exhaustion, getting to finally fully exhale after two overtime periods. Maybe it was from a quick reflection from a game that did, yes, feel like a playoff contest. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because his halfcourt heave which would have won the game was actually pretty close.
And based on the shots he had been making on Saturday, that really wouldn’t have been too big of a surprise.
Mitchell came up with two sets of late heroics. The Utah Jazz, it turns out, needed three in a 134-132 double-overtime loss to Denver on Saturday in the NBA bubble on Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Mitchell scored 24 of his 35 points during the fourth quarter and overtimes sessions as he tried to will the Jazz to a win.
He first pulled the Jazz back from the brink of defeat at the end of regulation. Mitchell scored seven straight points in the final 10.8 seconds of the fourth quarter, including a turnaround fadeaway 3-pointer and a coast-to-coast drive for a layup with 0.9 seconds left, to force overtime.
The three was an incredible play. He caught it on the run, then turned and fired all in the same motion. It was crazy he hit that type of shot once. And then he proceeded to hit two more of the same difficulty before the game was over. Each time the Jazz looked done, Mitchell hit a crazy shot to keep hope alive.
In the first overtime session, he hit two go-ahead buckets in the final 30.8 seconds — a contested three and then a pull-up jumper to give the Jazz a two-point lead with 3.4 seconds left.
“You got to be ready to hit those shots, that's my job this is what I'm supposed to do,” Mitchell said. ”And I think the biggest thing is making the shot move on to the next play.”
Especially because the next play on Saturday was another big shot that needed to be made.
Mitchell gave the Jazz a glimmer of hope with a 3-pointer with 5.6 seconds left in the second extra session that cut Denver’s lead to just two. After Jamal Murray missed two free throws, Mitchell got a chance at the buzzer from halfcourt but couldn’t draw iron. But with how Mitchell played, you better believe most thought it would.
So that’s what the Jazz didn’t exit Saturday’s game thinking about what if that shot had gone in. They were thinking of instead of what happened to lead to that point. Yes, Mitchell was superb to finish the game, but he probably didn’t need to be.
That’s because the Jazz wasted the best half of basketball they’ve played since the restart. In the first half, the Jazz were near flawless. The Nuggets had no answers for Rudy Gobert's persistent rolls to the rim. Each pick-and-roll seemed to lead to an easy dunk for Gobert, a trip to the foul line, or the Jazz center kicking it out to an open shooter.
Gobert had 14 of his 22 points in the first half and the Jazz shot 12 of 21 from 3-point range.
Everything looked easy and the Jazz rolled out to an 18-point lead in the second quarter. Heck, Utah looked so comfortable against the Nuggets it wouldn’t have been a shock if Jazz coach Quin Snyder opted to roll out his third unit in the second half to help ensure the Jazz meet Denver in the first round of the playoffs.
He didn’t do that. Denver came back anyway.
“They put you in a tough position,” Snyder said. “ (Nikola) Jokic, his ability to score the ball and to pass it as well, where he can get deep in the post. There were some situations that potentially we could have competed a little harder on and recognized a little sooner. I’m not critical of our effort. I think we’ll have a chance to look at those and have an opportunity to prepare even more.”
Jokic had 30 points and 11 rebounds on Saturday for Denver. He fouled out Gobert on a post move late in the first overtime and then scored the game-tying basket with 0.3 seconds left in the same session. Murray, playing in his first game of the restart, had 23 points, including some key buckets down the stretch.
With Saturday’s result, it’s likely Snyder and Co. will be preparing for Jokic, Murray and the Nuggets a lot more. The loss dropped the Jazz to No. 6 in the West. If that’s where they remain, they’ll likely play Denver in the first round.
If Saturday’s game is any indication, that would be a thrilling series.