The game was all but decided, his season seconds from being over, when Ricky Rubio started to make plans for next spring.

The Utah Jazz’s starting point guard leaned over to rookie Donovan Mitchell, put his face close to the youngster’s ear. Mitchell was injured late in Tuesday’s conference semifinal game with the Houston Rockets, his foot hurt and he was only wearing one shoe. Remember the pain, Rubio told Mitchell, let it wash over you.

“Then let this feeling go,” he said, “because we’ll be back.”

There was still the sting of defeat Wednesday morning as the Jazz cleaned out their lockers and completed their exit interviews to mark the end of their season. But stronger still was the feeling of promise, a real and shared belief that this end was actually only the beginning of something big.

“What we did, if we can stay healthy and keep our group together, I think we can be a really, really good team,” forward Joe Ingles said.

Forward Thabo Sefolosha said he believes the Jazz are one of the NBA’s elite teams. Big man Derrick Favors said they have shown they can compete with the very best.

“I think this team has a bright future,” he said.

First there will be work to do and decisions to be made.

The Jazz’s season last year ended with a loss to the Golden State Warriors, who went on to win the league title. The top-seeded Rockets sent Utah home for summer this year.

The Jazz feel good about winning a game in their semifinal matchup despite Rubio being injured, and they believe Mitchell’s play during his rookie season and their defensive effort against one of the NBA’s top offenses speak well for their future prospects.

“It shows that we’re doing something right,” center Rudy Gobert said. “But it also shows that we’re still not there yet. Just keep working, keep getting better. We have a lot of room to grow, but at the same time, we’ve shown we’re going in the right direction.”

Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey agrees. Lindsey looks at metrics, power rankings and analytical models and feels good about what he has built so far. The Jazz finished the season with a 29-6 record over their final 35 games. They were the best defensive team in the league by a significant margin during that time with Gobert back from a knee injury that cost him a third of his season.

“The dilemma is Golden State and Houston are clearly in front of us, and to be the last team standing, you have to go through the best teams,” Lindsey said. “So we have a lot of work to do, a lot of evaluation.”

Favors will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. Point guard Danté Exum will be a restricted free agent, and his upside could command a big payday on the market.

“I think everyone is going to walk in here and say how special our group was and how close our group was this year,” Ingles said. “It was a completely different thing from last year. I think the guys just genuinely cared and trusted each other and were committed to the same thing. I hope everyone’s back.”

Lindsey, of course, won’t tip his hand on his hopes for the draft and free agency, but the general manager believes there is still plenty of room for growth within the current Jazz roster. A portion of that will depend on how much Mitchell can improve off his sensational rookie season.

Mitchell said his personal goals remain the same as when he was drafted, but now they feel more real.

“I want to be Defensive Player of the Year, I want to be an All-Star, hopefully MVP,” he said. “You can say those things … but now it’s like I see what type of work you have to put in. I feel like I can do it. You can taste it a little more. You can feel it.”

Mitchell still can feel the confetti that fell Tuesday night in Houston as the Rockets celebrated and his year came to a close.

“It’s one thing to have that come down when you win and everything’s great,” he said. “But you want to see it when things don’t go your way too. You want that image.”

He wants to remember it, to keep it with him.

He wants it to motivate himself to get back there and win.