The last meaningful sequence of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season included two misses near the basket, four attempts from 3-point range, five offensive rebounds and zero points.
The extended possession lasted 53 seconds, with stoppages for a non-shooting foul, a ball knocked out of bounds and two OKC timeouts. Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, “It seemed like we were on defense for a long time.”
And now comes a quick turnaround. The Jazz will take the court Sunday afternoon in Houston for Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, facing the likes of James Harden and Chris Paul about 37 hours after Donovan Mitchell and three teammates concluded their Game 6 news conference early Saturday morning.
The upcoming series is “a challenge in and of itself,” Snyder said, even aside from the short preparation window. That part is the Jazz’s fault; if not for losing a 25-point lead in the third quarter of Game 5, they would have given themselves more time.
Then again, ending the first-round series in OKC would have cheated their home crowd out of a Game 6 that forever will be remembered around here for Mitchell’s epic third quarter and the Jazz’s ability to hold off one last Thunder rally.
Unlike the players and coaches, fans are allowed to dwell on the previous game for as long as they like. There’s a lot to unpack and savor about Game 6, especially Mitchell scoring 26 points in exactly 12 minutes spanning halftime.
Even with the final answer of the interview session, Mitchell kept delivering. He told the story of Snyder talking to him during a second-quarter timeout, when the Jazz’s offense was struggling in the absence of injured guard Ricky Rubio. Mitchell was playing nervously by his own account. Snyder told him, “We’re going to win this game, and you’re going to go off.”
“Word for word,” Mitchell recounted, “that’s what he said.”
And he was right all the way around. The memorable checkpoints along the way:
• The Jazz had scored 26 points and trailed by nine as of the four-minute mark of the second quarter, 20 minutes into the game.
• Beginning with a Rudy Gobert rebound and dunk, the Jazz scored 15 points in the remainder of the first half, earning a 41-41 tie that seemed miraculous enough. But there was much more to come.
• Mitchell’s driving layup with 3:22 left in the half started his streak of making 10 shots from the field, ending with another drive for a 3-point play at 3:22 of the third quarter for a 73-61 lead. His run included three 3-pointers plus three free throws. The Jazz had scored 52 points in 16 minutes, by the quarter’s end.
Mitchell wore down in the fourth quarter. He made only 2 of his last 10 shots in the game, finishing with 38 points. The Jazz lost nearly all of the 13-point lead they enjoyed with seven minutes remaining. They scored eight points the rest of the way, with Derrick Favors providing a big shot, a 19-footer that made it 94-91 with 1:08 remaining.
The Thunder’s sixth shot of the next sequence will be talked about all summer in Oklahoma. Paul George tried to draw a foul from Gobert on a 3-point try; the veteran officiating crew correctly made a no-call and the Jazz escaped.
So they’re suddenly in Houston, dealing with a 65-win team. The gap between Game 6 and Game 1 is not a fully valid excuse because Jazz teams in 2008 and 2010 faced similar situations in the West semis and played decently in Game 1 vs. the Los Angeles Lakers.
Regardless of what they do Sunday, the Jazz have earned fans’ forgiveness in advance, thanks to Friday’s showing.