Donovan Mitchell’s clutch heroics keep Utah Jazz coming back in loss to Denver

Utah Jazz's Donovan Mitchell (45) drives the ball against Denver Nuggets' Torrey Craig (3) during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)

Donovan Mitchell’s stat line from Saturday’s double-overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets would appear to be something of a mixed bag: Yes, he had 35 points, but he also shot just 12 of 33 overall and 5 of 16 from deep; and yeah, he aded eight assists and six rebounds, but he also committed five turnovers.

Thing is, a cursory glance at a stat sheet doesn’t really do justice to what Mitchell accomplished out on the AdventHealth Arena court Saturday.

If not for his heroics in the clutch, the Jazz don’t even make it to one overtime, let alone two.

“At the end of the day, it’s just going to come down to those [types of situations] come playoff time, so [I’ve] just got to be ready to hit some shots,” Mitchell said. “That’s my job. That’s what I’m supposed to do.”

That humble approach is a nice sentiment, but in truth, there are perhaps not many players throughout the league who could have pulled off what he did against the Nuggets.

For starters, he scored five points in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter to tie the game: first, by drilling a high-difficulty turnaround 3, and then, after Nuggets forward Jerami Grant made 1 of 2 free throws, snaking his way through the hapless Denver defense for a layup with 0.9 seconds to play.

In the first overtime, he added eight more crucial points, this time all in the final two minutes. A floating jumper-and-one at the 1:39 mark cut a 113-108 deficit to just two points. Then, with 30.8 seconds to play, he buried a 3 that actually put the Jazz on top, 117-115. After Nikola Jokic enticed Rudy Gobert into his sixth and final foul, then hit two tying free throws with 20.7 seconds to play, Mitchell had a chance to win the game.

The guard isolated above the 3-point line, drove in, pulled up, and buried the go-ahead free-throw line jumper to put Utah ahead 119-117. However, he left 3.4 seconds on the clock, which Jokic would subsequently utilize to force a second OT. Asked later if he regretted not using more clock and instead taking a shot at the buzzer, Mitchell immediately replied, “One hundred-ten percent.

“That’s really the only reason why I’m upset, because I should know that. I know that I should attack with around four or three [seconds left], and that’s a mental error on my part,” he added. “I feel like if I do that, hit the same shot, they don’t have the opportunity to [answer back]. So, that’s on me. I definitely had that mental error, but at the end of the day, it’s a learning process and I’m glad we learned it now and not Game 4 or 5 of the playoffs.”

Still, he would give the team one last chance in the second OT.

Down 134-129 with 7.8 seconds to play, he took a pass from Joe Ingles and drained yet another impossible 3, taking just 2.1 seconds to do so. The Jazz ultimately couldn’t take advantage even after the Nuggets’ Jamal Murray missed a pair of free throws with 4.2 seconds to play. Still, his effort just to author one far-fetched comeback after another left his team impressed with his clutch disposition.

“His ability to create in finding a balance between attacking and taking his own shot, [and] kicking the ball out — I think he did a little bit of everything,” said coach Quin Snyder. “There were some plays that he’s at the rim and I know he’s frustrated that some of those didn’t go down. But for him to be in that situation — we haven’t had a game like that in a long time.”