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SALT LAKE CITY — If you thought the Jazz were going to have an easy win when they jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the first three minutes Wednesday, you wouldn't be alone.
It even crossed the team's mind — not so much because of the score but because of how they were playing. The ball was swinging, the Jazz were breaking the paint and every shot was wide open.
"I thought we played as well as we have the entire season offensively, particularly in the first quarter," Quin Snyder said.
"I don't think the score reflected the way we played as a group," Donovan Mitchell added.
"That game could have got really ugly if we had made shots," Jordan Clarkson said.
The game wasn't easy — far from it, actually. The Jazz even needed a late 9-3 surge in the closing minutes to break a late tie and hold off the young Thunder 110-104 in Oklahoma City.
Utah's initial lead vanished after three Thunder 3-pointers came in quick succession; and after a quick start, the Jazz (12-6) went cold.
Oklahoma City (6-12) was 41.7% from 3-point range, led by Lu Dort who hit five triples himself; Utah hit on 32% of its deep shots.
"You're going to have nights when you don't shoot perfect. Last night, tonight, you know, it happens," Mitchell said. "I'm not not stressed about it. We have a talented team, so it's not like I have to (shoot well) every night."
Mitchell was just 6 of 16 from the field for 13 points and only had 7 points through the first 47 minutes of the game.
The last minute, however, belonged to Mitchell.
He made a put-back layup, hit a pull-up 22-footer, and finished things off with a running drive to the rim to finish off the Thunders' hopes. After being locked up and taken out of the Jazz offense for nearly the entire game, Mitchell found a rhythm.
The late-game heroics weren't just an answer to the Thunder but an answer to himself. Two nights ago against Memphis, Mitchell lost the ball off his foot, which led to a pivotal turnover, and he missed a potential game-winning jumper. That was still fresh in his mind as he started his late-game takeover Wednesday.
"I missed the game-winner the other night," Mitchell said. "You gotta respond, you know? This time, I did."
It showed the trust the team has in him. It didn't matter what happened last game, Mitchell is the guy Utah wants to have the ball in those late-game situations. Even with Dort harassing the team for most of the night — Dort forced Mitchell into some of his worst nights (the Jazz star isn't alone in being able to say that) — his teammates deferred to him at the end.
And he delivered.
"Sometimes you've got to go out there and get it," Mitchell said. "I like those shots that I got. At the end of the day, I'm going to continue to take them and my team trusts me; I trust myself. I put the work in for those moments."
Well, maybe not exactly these moments. A pre-Thanksgiving game against the Thunder likely wasn't the motivating factor during offseason training, and it's fair to wonder why the Jazz were in such a precarious position in the first place.
The Thunder are rebuilding and were without their best offensive player in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. So was it a troubling sign Utah needed its star to close things out? Not to the Jazz.
The team had to adjust to playing a small-ball lineup when Hassan Whiteside was ejected after arguing a non-call in the first quarter, which led to some rough moments. The Jazz haven't been known for their perimeter defense, and without Rudy Gobert or Whiteside back there, it turned into a layup line for Oklahoma City's guards.
Dort had 27 points and Josh Giddey finished with 19 for the Thunder in the loss.
With it being an early-season game and it being against an opponent like the Thunder, it's not the craziest thing for focus to wander at times. At least the transition defense was better — that's a win in and of itself after what's happened as of late.
In the end, the Jazz righted the ship in time to get the win. Gobert was dominant defensively in the fourth quarter and finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds; Jordan Clarkson had 20 points off the bench and Bojan Bogdanovic added 19 in the win.
As for Mitchell, his bad night was forgotten with one great minute.
"Rudy was a monster late defensively and Donovan closed the game, and that's a pretty good formula," Snyder said.