He plays a complete game. He's really something else. —Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, on Donovan Mitchell
SAN ANTONIO — Trailing by two points with 38.5 seconds remaining in regulation of a game the Utah Jazz ended up losing to the San Antonio Spurs, 124-120 in overtime, Donovan Mitchell made what could be classified as a rookie mistake.
Spurs veteran Manu Ginobili capitalized on the bad pass and turnover by Mitchell, putting San Antonio up by four points with 17.5 seconds to go after a terrific floating layup over the towering Rudy Gobert.
One thing remained in Mitchell's mind after that scenario Friday at the raucous AT&T Center in a playoff-like atmosphere.
"My main goal was not to lose the game off of that turnover. I wouldn’t be able to sleep for two and a half days," Mitchell said. "Just doing anything to get that turnover back was just my mentality. I was pretty upset about that one."
Mitchell responded by making what could be classified as two very un-rookie-like great plays — first hitting a deep 3-pointer from well beyond the top of the key to make it a one-point game and then calmly draining a game-tying, overtime-forcing 3 from the elbow while double-teamed with 3.6 seconds to go.
"You don't get surprised," Gobert said of the rookie from Louisville who continues to take the NBA by storm. Even so, the French big man, admitted, "Every night there’s something new. He’s a competitor, and we need that from him."
Mitchell scored 14 of his team-high 35 points in the fourth quarter to help push this game into an extra session. Fellow rookie of the year candidate Ben Simmons might believe he's just "a scorer," but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is quite impressed with the whole package.
"He's tough. I mean those two threes he hit were just ridiculous," Popovich said. "He's got courage and he's got the skill, and he's willing to take those shots so you've got to give him credit. He did a heck of a job. ...
"He plays a complete game. He's really something else."
It's becoming commonplace for Mitchell to do his thing — and he got some strong support from guys like Derrick Favors (22 points, eight rebounds) and Ricky Rubio (20 points, eight assists) — which happened in wildly entertaining fashion on this night.
But it's even more common for the Spurs to do their thing, which ended up in a wildly disappointing result for the Jazz. San Antonio won its sixth straight to improve to 43-30, creating some space between it and Utah, which now finds itself in eighth place in the Western Conference playoff race at 41-32 and just one game ahead of Denver (40-33).
After his heroic fourth-quarter flurry, Mitchell ran out of magic in overtime. He had one shot blocked — by the Spurs' hero of the night, LaMarcus Aldridge — and then missed two late 3-pointers as San Antonio held off the feisty Jazz.
"Upset. A game like this, even though we were down (by 11 points early on) and we didn't play our best, we were still right there to win," Mitchell said. "We just didn’t execute. We didn’t rebound when we needed to down the stretch. We competed, though."
That rebounding proved to kill the Jazz. Aldridge and Rudy Gay switched turns missing a shot and then cleaning up the other's mistake for a putback score late in overtime as the Spurs built a three-point lead with 34.7 seconds left.
Mitchell missed his game-tying attempt on the next possession, and then the Spurs wisely fouled him before he could try another trey while down 3 with 5.7 seconds remaining. Joe Ingles ended up with the ball after Utah inbounded it, but he stepped on the line while being fouled. He hit the first free throw, bringing Utah within two, but the Spurs clinched it by snatching a free throw he purposefully launched up to bounce high off the rim. Patty Mills then made two foul shots for the final margin.
"I think we competed," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "And that's what you have to do especially against these guys."
Aldridge was sensational almost all night, finishing with 45 points on 19-of-27 shooting for a Spurs team that is heading into the playoffs not knowing when star Kawhi Leonard will return from his injury rehab. Mills finished with 25 points, and Ginobili ended up with 18, including 14 in his fourth-quarter showdown with Mitchell.
"He's been a horse all year long," Popovich said of Aldridge. "He was awarded that All-Star position, which he deserves, and he's basically carried us, him with his talent and everybody else with their heart."
Kind of sounds like the Jazz and their rookie who's playing like an All-Star. Mitchell hit 14 of 35 shots and 4 of 13 3-pointers, but he was clutch in that fourth-quarter crunch time.
"That's something we’ve been doing," Snyder said, referring to relying on Mitchell to carry the team. "We had a lot of guys contribute throughout the game. Donovan has the ability to create, and he made some plays. His teammates are confident in him and frankly he’s confident in his teammates as well."
The Jazz have a day off before going on to their next challenge — a Sunday showdown at Golden State.