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Donovan Mitchell dazzles again and again in Utah’s double-overtime loss to Denver Nuggets

Mitchell’s heroics came to life at the end of regulation when he singlehandedly brought the Jazz back from a 6-point deficit in the span of 10.8 seconds.

Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell (45) celebrates his basket with teammate Royce O’Neale during overtime of an NBA basketball gam against the Denver Nuggets, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP

SALT LAKE CITY — After a game-high 35-points in a double-overtime performance, Donovan Mitchell couldn’t help but think, if he’d just been patient for a couple more seconds at the end of the first overtime, there wouldn’t have been any need for a second overtime and the Jazz could have won.

Nikola Jokic had just evened the score, 117-117, at the free-throw line, the result of a play that saw Rudy Gobert foul out of the game. With the shot clock turned off, just past half court Mitchell dribbled out the clock — 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7 — and with 6.5 seconds left he started his drive. He crossed up PJ Dozier and hit a free-throw line jumper with 3.4 seconds left in the extra period. It was just enough of a window to give the Nuggets a chance on the other end.

“That’s really the only reason I’m upset,” Mitchell said after the 134-132 loss. “I should know that, I should know that I should attack around four, or three (seconds), that’s a mental error on my part. If I do that, hit the same shot, they don’t have an opportunity. That’s on me.”

The 3.4 seconds was all Jokic needed after a timeout to get the inbound pass, drive past Royce O’Neale, and lay in a game-tying bucket.

The play had to be reviewed since the clock didn’t start — one of many malfunctions and reviews of the game — but after review Jokic used 3.1 seconds and another overtime period was on the horizon.

Mitchell’s heroics came to life at the end of regulation when he singlehandedly brought the Jazz back from a 6-point deficit in the span of 10.8 seconds with two free throws and an impossible looking turnaround 3-pointer with 7.8 seconds. After a single free throw made by Jerami Grant, Mitchell hit a clutch free-throw line jumper to deliver the Jazz to the first overtime.

Mitchell dazzled again and again throughout the extra periods, hitting a 3-pointer with 5.6 seconds on the clock in the second overtime to bring the Jazz within two points, and after two missed free throws on the other end by Jamal Murray, the door was open for the Jazz to get the last shot off, but Mitchell just barely made it half court when he was forced to heave up a Hail Mary that came up short.

The Jazz lost and they did so in double overtime of a game in which they had a 18-point lead in the first half. Even so, they were pleased with so much of what they did. For Mitchell to come away upset with just a three-second moment in a loss is not bad in the grand scheme of things.

“It’s a learning process and I’m glad we learned it now and not game four or five of the playoffs,” Mitchell said.

Though he was talking about that play at the end of the first overtime, it’s true of so much of the game against Denver, a team that the Jazz could very likely meet in the first round of the postseason.

The Jazz have said all along that these seeding games are about learning and improving before the playoffs. What the Jazz were able to learn from this matchup could be more valuable than any of the games thus far in the bubble.

For the first time since the NBA suspension, the Jazz came out of the gate energized and efficient on both ends of the floor. Through the first two quarters they looked nearly perfect. Instinctive and quick on the defensive end, Gobert held Jokic to two points. The Jazz anticipated action and rotated beautifully. On the offensive end, the Jazz shot 57.1 from 3-point range, moved the ball with ease, and got a 26-point boost from the bench.

The execution through the first 24 minutes gives the Jazz a blueprint from which to work and set a standard of what they can be, even without Bojan Bogdanovic, if they are able to lock in early.

Even looking across the court to the Nuggets’ situation is an opportunity to learn that resilience, no matter the situation or the opponent, is often the most important thing in high-pressure games.

“In that first half, we’re down by 18 points and they’re hitting everything,” Denver head coach Mike Malone said. “It’s very easy when that’s happening to fall apart and come unglued.”

Instead the Nuggets battled back behind aggressive outings from Jokic and Michael Porter Jr., who combined for 33 points in the second half.

“There were certain things that they executed on, and that’s a credit to them, but I like the way we played as a whole, as a group,” Mitchell said. “Everybody stepped up. I think it was huge. I think it was a great effort.”

Though there were moments when the ball got stuck for the Jazz in the latter two periods of regulation, they also missed open shots while the Nuggets started to find a rhythm, which caused the game to swing the other way. Collectively the Jazz were most disappointed with their second-half rebounding, another lesson. Against the good teams, when every little thing counts, crashing the boards could be the difference.

When asked what the difference was between the first and second halves, Gobert took the blame.

“I really liked the way we played in the third quarter because they made the run but then we stayed with it,” he said. “Fourth quarter, I think personally, I didn’t play the same way I was for the first three quarters and it was mostly on me. I missed things that I probably won’t miss again. Probably like 10 points, just myself. Layups, free throws, I should have dunked the ball, I didn’t dunk. A lot of things.”

Gobert is right that he missed layups, free throws and had the ball swatted away when he should went for a strong dunk, but again, those are all things that can be looked at and learned from.

There were so many close, end-of-game type situations — with and without timeouts, coming off a rebound, coming out of a break, crawling back through fouls and quick plays — that the Jazz are going to have an abundance of film to be able to go over and make adjustments and then practice exactly those situations, which so often happen in the postseason.

“We didn’t get the win but I think it was a great learning experience for us to play this team today,” Gobert said.

After completing the back-to-back set, the Jazz will have Sunday off before their penultimate seeding game against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday at 1 p.m. MDT.