Mike Conley, Rudy Gobert Shine as Jazz Rout Nuggets to Take 2-1 Series Lead

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistAugust 21, 2020

Utah Jazz's Mike Conley reacts after being fouled during the third quarter of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets, Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP)
Mike Ehrmann/Associated Press

The Utah Jazz have taken control of their Western Conference playoff series against the Denver Nuggets with an easy 124-87 victory in Game 3 on Friday. 

Since dropping the series opener in overtime, the Jazz have wasted no time turning things around. Their offense was tremendous in the first two games with an average of 124.5 points. That was without Mike Conley Jr., who left the NBA campus Sunday to be with his wife for the birth of the couple's son. 

Conley cleared quarantine and was back in the starting lineup for Game 3 to give Utah some much-needed depth. It paid off with him making seven of his eight three-point attempts in just 25 minutes. 

Notable Player Stats

  • Mike Conley: 27 pts (9-13 FG), 4 AST
  • Rudy Gobert: 24 pts (11-15 FG), 14 REB
  • Donovan Mitchell: 20 pts (5-13 FG), 4 REB
  • Nikola Jokic: 15 pts (6-13 FG), 6 AST, 5 REB
  • Jamal Murray: 12 pts (5-16 FG), 6 AST, 5 REB
  • Michael Porter Jr.: 7 pts (3-6 FG), 5 REB

Dominant Gobert, Conley Lead Dangerous Jazz to Victory

Concerns about Utah's ability to score in the playoffs appear to have been unfounded based on the results so far in the postseason. 

Friday was a showcase for Conley and Rudy Gobert, with Donovan Mitchell able to take a step back. 

utahjazz @utahjazz

father of three energy https://t.co/F0SgzoTqpo

utahjazz @utahjazz

straight up monster https://t.co/C9LwZf62ff

Kendrick Perkins @KendrickPerkins

Gobert trying to go for 40 tonight?! 20-11 at half is very IMPRESSIVE!!!

#NBADesktop @ringernba

Currently wondering if Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert bond talking about their sons Elijah Conley and Nikola Jokic, respectively.

During the seeding games, the most asked question for the Jazz was how they would score enough to win in the playoffs. Bogdanvoic was their most efficient scorer during the regular season (20.2 points per game, 41.4 three-point percentage). 

Conley didn't have the season anyone expected after he was acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies last summer. The 32-year-old's 40.9 field-goal percentage during the regular season was the second-worst of his career (38.1 in 2017-18). 

Tim MacMahon @espn_macmahon

Mike Conley has that Fred VanVleet post-baby shooting stroke.

The version of Conley that showed up Friday is the type of player who can be a difference-maker on a championship-caliber team. 

Gobert's impact on the defensive end is well known, but he was the best offensive center Friday in a game that featured Nikola Jokic. 

If the Jazz can figure out a way to harness these performances from Conley and Gobert throughout the postseason, they are going to cause problems for a lot of teams in the Western Conference. 


Nuggets Need Quick Answers in Ugly Loss

It's impossible to try and spin what happened with the Nuggets in this loss. In fact, since dominating the Jazz in overtime of Game 1, this squad has looked lifeless in its last eight quarters. 

There were indications during the seeding games that Denver's defense could have problems against Utah. In a preview for this series, NBA.com's Eric Spyropoulos noted the Nuggets ranked 21st out of 22 teams in three-point defense:

"Opponents shot 43.9 percent from beyond the arc against Denver in eight seeding games, which ranked 21st among the 22 teams in the bubble.

"Now, the Nuggets will be facing a Utah team that finished first in the league in 3-point percentage at 38.8 percent. Even without Bogdanovic, Utah possesses several quality shooters in its rotation.

"In fact, Utah’s 3-point percentage increased in the three matchups against Denver, as the Jazz shot 53-of-131 (40.4 percent) from deep."

Those defensive woes have been a problem in the past two games, as the Jazz have made 38 of 81 attempts from behind the arc. 

While the defense isn't a total surprise, the offense is an even bigger mystery for the Nuggets. They had nearly as many turnovers (17) as assists (20) on Friday. 

Hardwood Paroxysm @HPbasketball

Utah has genuinely been as impressive as the Nuggets have been pathetic

George Karl @CoachKarl22

The @nuggets forgot this game is a team sport that requires trust and belief in each other. That belief is lost right now! They are playing individual ball and their defense has no guts or physicality.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Nuggets bench morale says it all... https://t.co/sIcGP6FSmq

Nuggets head coach Michael Malone seemed like he found a formula that was working during the seeding games.

Nokic and Jamal Murray remained the top two players on the roster, but Michael Porter Jr. was making strides to become a scoring option with 22 points on 42.2 percent shooting from three in seven seeding games. 

The strategy worked in Game 1, but everything has fallen apart over the past two games with no indication things might turn around. If things stay on their current trajectory, the Nuggets will be going home a lot sooner than they expected. 

What's Next?

The Nuggets and Jazz will play Game 4 of their series Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.