LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Donovan Mitchell scored a career-high 57 points for the Utah Jazz, but it was his 8-second violation with 1:46 remaining in the fourth quarter that helped the Denver Nuggets escape from Game 1 of the first-round playoff series with a 135-125 overtime victory Monday.
“It’s tough to lose the first game … but there’s a lot of things we could control,” Mitchell said afterward. “I put a little bit on myself for the 8-second violation, and then they come down and hit a 3, and that really changed the entire game, that sequence right there.”
The Jazz had the ball and a four-point lead with 1:54 remaining when Mitchell slowly began walking the ball upcourt — including yelling up to Joe Ingles to redirect him to another part of the court.
What he failed to realize in the moment was that the shot clock had started at 22 seconds, rather than 24, after the initial defensive rebound Rudy Gobert grabbed after blocking Nikola Jokic‘s shot had been knocked away from him and out of bounds.
It was only when Mitchell looked up and realized the clock was at just over 16 seconds that he tried to hustle over half court — only for veteran official Scott Foster, who was standing right at the midcourt stripe, to instantly blow his whistle and point to the center circle, and signal for it to be Nuggets ball.
Mitchell’s miscue was only compounded by the fact that it was immediately followed by a Jamal Murray 3-pointer that cut Utah’s lead from four to one — beginning a Murray hot streak that lasted through the remainder of the game, and costing Utah a chance to open the series with a desperately needed victory.
“That’s my fault as a leader and as a point guard at that time,” Mitchell said. “That’s terrible on my part.
“I kind of put that … there’s really no one else to put it on. I was just taking my time walking it up, and I’ve got to be more aware. I think that was a crucial part of the game. At the end of the day, I’m not going to put it all on that one play, but that was a crucial part.”
The 8-second violation was a rare, but costly, misstep in what was a brilliant performance by Mitchell — one the Jazz desperately needed with point guard Mike Conley having left the team to return to Ohio for the birth of his child. Mitchell scored 28 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, making one virtuoso play after another.
His 57 points is the third-most in NBA playoff history, trailing only Michael Jordan’s 63 points against the Boston Celtics in 1986 and Elgin Baylor’s 61 points against the Celtics in 1962.
“Not good,” said Nikola Jokic, who had 29 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in 42 minutes. “It’s not good for us. Donovan is an amazing player. We know that he is going to be aggressive. He’s a really good scorer.
“When we know there is going to be a game like this, I am just glad that we found a way to make good plays and the right plays at the end and we won the game.”
To put all of the blame on the 8-second violation, though, would ignore Murray’s ridiculous close to the game, as Denver outscored Utah 30-16 over the final 1:46 of regulation and the five-minute overtime period — with Murray, who scored 18 points and had two assists during that stretch, outscoring Utah by himself.
“It was good talk, good chatter out there on the floor,” said Murray, who finished with 36 points and nine assists in 40 minutes. “That is what made it so fun. We are chatting as we go to timeouts, I am guarding him and he’s hitting step- backs on me and he’s guarding me and I’m hitting step-backs on him.
“I am smiling because those are the games you want to be in, those are games that are the most fun and most competitive. As a guy that takes it with that kind of passion, those are the fights, those are the competitive spirit that you want to have going into games. It is going to be a good series.”
The Jazz, though, will be kicking themselves after letting this game get way — particularly with Conley still guaranteed to miss at least Game 2, if not longer, as he attends to his newborn child.
Still, Mitchell was trying to stay positive after the loss, saying that all Denver had done — despite the oddity that is playing these playoff games in an arena with no fans at a neutral site — was hold onto home court as the higher-seeded team.
“Obviously it’s a tough one to lose like this in overtime,” Mitchell said, “but there’s going to be a bunch more, and I think guys, including myself, are ready.
“We executed a lot of things right. We’ve just got to go back to the drawing board, and be ready.”
ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk contributed to this report.