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Donovan Mitchell scores 46 in return to Utah, but Jazz get win


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SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell was on his way to scoring 50 points in his first trip back to Salt Lake City, and his new team was on the verge of making it a happy homecoming for the former Jazz star.

But everything changed in one trip down the court.

Utah was down 107-102 with 1:33 left in the game. One possession later, they were up 109-107.

So … touchdown, Jazz? Something like that. Actually, it was more like a touchdown, Jordan Clarkson.

In a span of 13 seconds, Clarkson scored 7 points without Utah ever having to go back on the defensive end.

How?

Clarkson hit a 3-pointer while getting undercut. It was deemed a flagrant foul, which gave the ball back to the Jazz after Clarkson finished off the 4-point play at the free-throw line. After the ball was inbounded, Clarkson was then fouled on a 3-point attempt — and he made all three freebies.

Just like that, the Jazz were up by 2 points. Maybe Utah's end-of-game luck is starting to change.

That unlikely sequence was the catalyst to the Jazz's 116-114 win over Mitchell and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night.

"Obviously, JC was massive for us in the second half," Jazz coach Will Hardy said. "He had 24 points in the second half. He had a 7-point play at one point, which is exactly what I told him to do."

Clarkson scored 15 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, 11 of which came in the final four minutes, to bring the Jazz back from a 7-point deficit in the fourth quarter. And, in the process, spoil Mitchell's night. Or maybe not.

"It sucks to lose, but when you see a guy like JC who has grown so much this year as a playmaker. … It's great to see," Mitchell said.

Mitchell told everyone on the Jazz side that he didn't want to really talk to them before the game; Clarkson, though, couldn't resist. About an hour before tipoff, Clarkson came and bear-hugged his former teammate, and the two shared a few laughs as they talked. Then they dueled.

Mitchell won the scoring battle; Clarkson won the game.

"I think this was payback for him not shooting well in Cleveland," Mitchell said.

Mitchell had 46 points in the game on 14-for-27 shooting, and it matched the most he ever scored at Vivint Arena with the Jazz. This time around, he was just wearing the opposing jersey, but you'd never had known that from the fans' reaction.

Mitchell was greeted with a standing ovation and a thunderous applause as his name was announced in the Cleveland starting lineup ahead of Tuesday's game. Sure, there were some boos sprinkled in, but it was mostly the sellout crowd that showed its appreciation for the five seasons Mitchell played in Utah.

His rookie year helped heal the wound left when Gordon Hayward spurned the franchise. Mitchell eventually led the Jazz to one of its greatest regular seasons ever. Yes, things didn't end well, but there was a lot to celebrate — for him and for the fans.

The fans in attendance even cheered on impressive plays by Mitchell, of which there were many, and even gave him some playful ribbing when he air-balled a shot in the third quarter. Mitchell was a good sport there, too, and smiled and egged on the crowd.

Any worry that there would be a tumultuous — or even awkward — relationship between Mitchell and his former fan base was put to rest.

"It was really comfortable; It wasn't weird," Mitchell said. "... The reception was phenomenal; appreciative of everybody. It felt like a typical Jazz night. Back and forth, screaming and yelling. Unfortunately, we didn't get the dub, but gotta give them credit; they fought hard."

The Jazz went on a 21-6 run near the end of the game and held Cleveland scoreless for nearly three minutes to take control of the contest. Lauri Markkanen, who came to Utah in the deal that sent Mitchell to the Cavs, had 25 points and 16 rebounds in the win over his old club

"We've had a couple of tough losses, obviously, the last couple weeks, so it feels good to pull out a close one," Markkanen said.

That made it a darn-near perfect night for Jazz fans. They got to see the player they clearly still like play at an MVP level, and also see their team win. Oh, and see a rare 7-point play in the process.

"You don't want to count on those things to go in your favor to win a game, but we've also had some tough breaks during our tough stretch that haven't gone our way and so sometimes it all levels out," Hardy said.

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