SALT LAKE CITY — With 6.5 seconds left in overtime, Donovan Mitchell began his move. If anyone should have known just how long that was, it was the Jazz’s young All-Star.
Just minutes before, Mitchell had gone coast-to-coast, using a Rudy Gobert screen in the process, to score a game-tying layup near the end of regulation. The amount of time that play took: 6.2 seconds.
This time he didn’t need to cover the whole court, he didn’t need to go around a screen, he didn’t even need to get all the way to the hoop. So by the time Mitchell had crossed up PJ Dozier and hit a free throw line jumper to give Utah the lead, there was still 3.4 seconds remaining. That was enough for Denver’s Nikola Jokic to rumble past Royce O’Neale for a layup to send the game into second overtime session where the Nuggets would go on to win.
Those extra seconds loomed large at the end; seconds Mitchell just gave to the Nuggets.
“That’s really the only reason why I’m upset because I should know that,” Mitchell said. “I should know that I should kind of attack with around four or three (seconds left) and that’s a mental error on my part. I feel like if I do that, hit the same shot, they don’t have the opportunity to do that. So, that’s on me. I definitely had that mental error, but at the end of the day, it’s a learning process and I’m glad we learned it now and not game four or five of the playoffs.”
On Saturday, the Jazz got a taste of the playoffs. A small sample of what it feels like for every possession to matter, for every made shot feel larger than the last, for every second to truly count.
That probably wasn't plan or their intention as they prepared for the Nuggets, but you don’t go through a two-overtime classic featuring major momentum shifts, large comebacks, and ridiculous shotmaking without picking up some extra knowledge.
When Mitchell single-handedly pulled the Jazz back late in the fourth by scoring 7 points in the final 10.8 seconds, the game’s intensity rose. Suddenly, it meant more. No matter the outcome, that's a good thing going forward.
"Having the opportunity to look at that, for the coaches and the players, for us to talk about some of those things and see where we can be a little bit better but I thought our guys did an excellent job of executing down the stretch," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.
In many ways, the Jazz arrived in Florida needing to discover a new identity sans Bojan Bogdanovic. He’s a 20-point per game score, the offense often revolved around his skills, and he hit two game-winning threes this season alone — things were going to be different without him. That has meant the seeding games have been maybe more important for the Jazz than the other teams in the bubble. They had some stuff to figure out.
A game like Saturday’s only helps with that.
“I think it's really showing guys what to expect,” Mitchell said. “Obviously, not having Bojan is huge. We just got to figure out what guys' roles are in this situation. Then come playoff time, like a playoff-intensity game like we just had, where guys need to be, where points are going to come from, where are stops are gonna come from and who's ready for the moment.”
To Mitchell, the Jazz showed on Saturday that even in a loss, they were ready.
Mitchell scored 7 points in the final 10.8 seconds of regulation and then added 13 more in the two overtime sessions. Mike Conley hit three clutch shots during the two overtimes. Joe Ingles hit a big three in the first overtime. And the team as a whole battling back from multiple deficits where it looked like the Jazz were done for. These were all good signs.
Sometimes things don’t break right — Mitchell pointed to Gobert fouling out leading to Jokic having a pretty easy time on the game-tying layup — but if this was a playoff preview (Utah and Denver will play in the first round if current standings hold), the Jazz showed they can compete.
“The biggest thing was just trying to find a way,” he said. “Guys were banged up, tired on both sides. Credit to them. They ran a bunch of great stuff, we came back and ran some great stuff, hit some big shots, but that’s really all it was. It’s not (about) who wanted it more, a bunch of games roll that way.”
And Mitchell thinks it would’ve rolled different if he had waited a few more seconds. Something he now knows to do once the postseason rolls around.