Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell was hypercritical of Utah's playoff losses to Denver: His eight-second violation in Game 1. Blowing a big lead in Game 5. Not matching Denver’s intensity in Game 6. Losing the ball late in a back-and-forth Game 7.
It all added up to sixth-seeded Utah being on the wrong side of NBA history as the Nuggets became the 12th team in the annals of the league to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series.
One thing Donovan won’t quibble with: The direction of the Jazz. He likes the trajectory they’re on with the team making the post-season for a fourth straight season. This was simply another lesson to be learned.
“This won’t happen again,” said Mitchell, a third-year player out of Louisville. "I’m ready to go hoop again right now. We all are. This is just the beginning."
Mitchell fell to the floor after Mike Conley’s 3-point attempt spun out at the buzzer in Game 7.
His first emotion: Shock.
“We worked so hard, as a unit, as a whole, to get to a point that we got to, and we were this close,” said Mitchell, whose team rallied from a 19-point deficit in the 80-78 loss. “To be that close, that hurts.”
His later thought: Use the feelings as motivation in the off-season.
Mitchell averaged 36.3 points in the series, including 57- and 51-point games. He became only the fifth player in NBA history to score 50 or more twice in a single playoffs. He joins the company of Allen Iverson (2001), Michael Jordan (1993, 1988), Wilt Chamberlain (1960) and Jamal Murray, his counterpart during this series and the player who came over and hugged him at the end.
Mitchell, who turns 24 next week, took his game to another level on the biggest of stages.
“This is me scratching the surface,” Mitchell said. “I’ll be back. We’ll be back.”
It’s a sentiment shared by centre Rudy Gobert.
“You want to win. We will. I have no doubt that we will,” Gobert said. “We started something. Now we have to finish it."
Gobert and Mitchell were on the same page in this series, celebrating together following big basket after big basket. That wasn’t exactly the case a little bit ago.
Their connection was fractured after Gobert became the first player in the league to test positive for the coronavirus. Two days before that, Gobert jokingly touched all the recorders on a table in front of him during a media session on March 9. Gobert soon tested positive, followed by Mitchell.
Gradually, they patched up the relationship.
“It’s been an interesting few months,” Gobert said. “A few months ago, I probably wasn't in the right space mentally to go out and play with my team. We found a way to make it happen. To be able to have my teammates' support through the last few months, since we’re in the bubble, after everything that happened ... I really tried to give everything I could for this team.”
Mitchell’s missions in the bubble: Win a title and spread the message. Now, he will continue to use his platform for social justice and speak out on racism from home.
Last week, following a stoppage in the playoffs, the league and the players agreed to establish a social justice coalition, made up of players, coaches and owners, that would focus on issues such as voting access and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.
“The closer we to get to the finals, I hope guys continue to use their voice,” Mitchell said. “Because people are listening.”
The Jazz played the restart without their top 3-point threat Bojan Bogdanovic, who had wrist surgery in May. His presence was missed in this series and will be counted on next season.
“With Bojan coming back, I’m not putting it all on Bojan, but him coming it’s another weapon,” Mitchell said.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder reiterated how much this team meant to him.
“This is a group that was an extreme privilege to coach and be around over the past couple of months,” Snyder said. “To see a group of players come together like that around such a difficult time is something I’ll remember as incredibly special.”
The 7-foot-1 Gobert saw his two-year reign as NBA defensive player of the year come to an end when Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo earned the award.
Gobert made his first All-Star squad this season.
Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson was a big lift off the bench after being acquired in a December trade with Cleveland. In the playoffs, he averaged 16.7 points. Only Thurl Bailey (23.2 points in 1988) and Paul Millsap (18 points in 2010) averaged more off the bench for Utah in a post-season.
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