SALT LAKE CITY — — Donovan Mitchell dribbled out the clock in the backcourt, dodging Dallas’ last-ditch efforts to foul before letting out a triumphant yell and throwing the ball high in the air.
Mitchell celebrated Chrismas Day with 33 points and the Utah Jazz beat the COVID-19-depleted Mavericks 120-116 on Saturday night.
“I grew up watching these games and wanting to be in this position. To play on Christmas is special … it’s an honor and a blessing,” said Mitchell, who overcame a back strain sustained in the first quarter.
It wasn’t the Christmas night matchup the NBA hoped for with Luka Doncic among the Mavs stuck in the league’s health and safety protocols. Still, it was competitive to the end despite several new signees getting significant minutes for Dallas.
“Even with guys out, it’s what you ask for. It’s extra emotion, extra drive, just one step below the playoffs. Everybody’s excited and locked in,” Mitchell said.
Tim Hardaway Jr., Maxi Kleber, Reggie Bullock, Trey Burke, JaQuori McLaughlin and Josh Green were also sidelined in the health and safety protocols for the Mavericks. In addition, Willie Cauley-Stein was out for personal reasons and Dorian Finney-Smith missed the game with a non-COVID illness.
The Jazz still have not lost a player to the coronavirus, and the depth and experience showed as Utah took over in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t play our best and got behind by 16 points, but this time we didn’t let it slip away. We’re getting better and maybe learning some lessons,” said Rudy Gobert, who had eight of his 10 points in the final period.
Jalen Brunson scored 27 points and Porzingis returned after two games out with a sore toe to tally 27 points for Dallas. Frank Ntilikina had a season-best 17 points, marking the first time he’s scored in double figures in back-to-back games this season.
“No matter who’s on our side or who’s on that side … you got to be aggressive. You got to be locked in. You got to have that mindset of playing, whatever the defense,” Brunson said.
Guarded by Royce O’Neale — who is nine inches shorter — Porzingis scored six straight points to give Dallas an 84-75 lead with 4:45 left in the third quarter.
Dallas led 94-92 in the fourth quarter before the Jazz went on a 10-0 run punctuated by Jordan Clarkson’s one-handed alley-oop to Gobert that made it 102-94 for Utah. The Jazz never trailed the rest of the way.
Mavericks (15-17) have lost four of five but started strong. Porzingis powered Dallas to a 26-11 lead with a jumper, a dunk and five throws while the Jazz went 5 for 17 and had five turnovers.
“The frantic part of it was us fouling. That really hurt us, particularly in the first quarter, because it slows the game down and allows them to change their defense,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said.
The Mavericks’ zone defense flustered the Jazz early, but the Jazz started hitting perimeter shots and getting to the basket. Mitchell scored 16 points in the second quarter to spur the Jazz to a 65-63 lead at the half.
The Mavericks’ aggressiveness kept the team neck-and-neck with Utah, and Dallas was 30 of 35 at the foul line, their highest number of free throws made and attempted this season. The teams combined to shoot 72 free throws.
“That was one of the best teams in the league — not just the Western Conference,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “I thought those guys in our locker room fought all the way to the end. The ball just didn’t bounce our way tonight in that fourth quarter. We had some good looks.”
BOGEY FOR 3 IS A KEY
Bogdanovic made a 3-pointer with 2:01 remaining to lift the Jazz to an eight-point lead, a cushion Utah needed as the Mavericks made a final charge at the end of the game.
It’s a familiar occurrence as the Jazz have hit their stride the last few weeks. Bogdanovic has gone 37 for 73 over the last 11 games from 3-point range and scored more than 14 points in every contest.
Bogdanovic’s consistency from the outside, along with his post-up and transition scoring, has prevented defenses from helping on Mitchell’s drives and Gobert’s rolls to the rim.
Mavericks: Dallas shot 21 first-half free throws (and the Jazz shot 20). … Porzingis missed both technical free throws he attempted, one in each half. … Porzingis and O’Neale wrestled to the ground on a boxout late in the game.
Jazz: Mitchell notched his ninth 30-point game of the season. … Mitchell went to the locker room in the first quarter but returned in the second period for a flurry of offense, though a bit hobbled. … The Jazz have outscored their opponents in 12 straight games while Conley has been on the court. … Joe Ingles got a technical for the second straight game.
Mavericks: Visit Portland on Monday night.
Jazz: Visit San Antonio on Monday night for first road game in 16 days.