Donovan Mitchell Scores 51 to Outduel Jamal Murray as Jazz Defeat Nuggets

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistAugust 24, 2020

Utah Jazz's Donovan Mitchell, right, talks with Rudy Gobert during the first quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)
Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

The Utah Jazz took a commanding 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2020 NBA playoffs with a 129-127 win on Sunday night.

Jamal Murray (50 points) notched a career high in scoring yet still couldn't outduel Donovan Mitchell (51 points). Mitchell not only dropped 50 points for the second time but also delivered the proverbial dagger on a three-pointer with 54.7 seconds remaining that gave the Jazz a four-point lead.


Spida Mitchell is cold-blooded 🥶 https://t.co/UM5t3sbMZG

StatMuse @statmuse

Players with multiple 50-point games in a single playoff run: - Michael Jordan (2x) - Wilt Chamberlain - Allen Iverson - Donovan Mitchell https://t.co/jpheuEbPub


“50 is 50, but we’re looking to close the series out.” @spidadmitchell talks about his 51-PT performance with @JaredSGreenberg after Utah’s Game 4 victory. https://t.co/ZY8yPrZsMG

According to Elias Sports Bureau (h/t ESPN Stats & Info), this was the first time in NBA postseason history that opposing players scored at least 45 points.

Denver held on for a hard-fought overtime win in Game 1. That effort was sorely lacking in Games 2 and 3, which were decided by a combined margin of 56 points. The Nuggets had a better showing in Game 4, though they still offered little resistance to a Jazz offense that is firing on all cylinders.

According to NBA.com, Utah had a 61.2 net rating in the third quarter through the first three games.

The trend continued in Game 4 as the Jazz opened up some breathing room after halftime. An eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter may not sound like much, but it was a healthy cushion when Denver was unable to string together defensive stops. Utah shot 57.5 percent from the field and went 14-of-29 from beyond the arc.


Notable Performers

Jamal Murray, PG, Nuggets: 18-31 FG, 9-15 3P, 50 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, one block

Nikola Jokic, C, Nuggets: 12-24 FG, 29 points, sevem rebounds, six assists

Donovan Mitchell, SG, Jazz: 15-27 FG, 4-7 3P, 51 points, four rebounds, seven assists

Jordan Clarkson, PG, Jazz: 9-13 FG, 4-7 3P, 24 points, three rebounds

Mike Conley, PG, Jazz: 8-13 FG, 4-8 3P, 26 points, one rebound, four assists, two steals


Mitchell Feasts on Porous Nuggets Defense

To understand why the Nuggets are in a 3-1 hole, look no further than Mitchell's output. The 2020 All-Star is torching Denver, whether he's creating his own shot or finding his teammates for scoring opportunities.

The Jazz have had a lot of success with Mitchell running the pick-and-roll, and that continued Sunday. On other occasions, their offense boiled down to letting their best player cook.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Spida picking up where he left off 🕷 27 PTS | 3-3 3PM https://t.co/8nOVyXCuQT

Christian Clark @cclark3000

Mitchell dribbling past three Nuggets a pretty good summary of this series so far.

utahjazz @utahjazz

4️⃣5️⃣➡️2️⃣7️⃣ #TakeNote https://t.co/pkDaqtRxgn

Utah wasn't a one-man show, though, as Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson hit four three-pointers apiece.

The last two games are exactly why the Jazz acquired Conley from the Memphis Grizzlies. They couldn't keep leaning on Mitchell as they had in the playoffs over the past two years, thus requiring the addition of a proven scorer and playmaker.

Conley's adjustment wasn't seamless in Salt Lake City, but the 32-year-old is making his presence felt.

utahjazz @utahjazz

Mike counter: 🏔🏔🏔 #TakeNote https://t.co/6eHess86EY

utahjazz @utahjazz

(•_•) <) )╯that's / \ (•_•) \( (> Jazz / \ (•_•) <) )╯basketball / \ https://t.co/JasQEFfkI1

Nate Duncan @NateDuncanNBA

After a rough start in Utah, Mike Conley is looking like the guy the Jazz traded for in the bubble. Looking very spry. One of the best at setting up screens, and has the chemistry now w/ Gobert.

Rebounding is one area head coach Quin Snyder will want to see improvement from his team. Utah allowed Denver to grab 17 offensive rebounds, which the Nuggets turned into second-chance points.


Different Effort, Same Result for Nuggets

Murray had 26 combined points after he carried Denver to a Game 1 win, and Paul Millsap was held to single digits in each of the first three games of the series. With the Nuggets clearly needing to be better Sunday, those two led by example.

Murray and Millsap combined for 32 points in the first half, helping to set the tone. Millsap's effort in particular was a welcome contrast to his previous outings.

Kendra Andrews @kendra__andrews

This is the best Paul Millsap has played in the bubble. He's up to 14 points in 11 minutes.

Eric Walden @tribjazz

It took until Game 4, but Paul Millsap has finally arrived to take part in the Jazz-Nuggets series. He's got 14p on 5-8 shooting, including 2-3 from deep. Nuggets lead 55-50.

Murray, meanwhile, was getting whatever he wanted on offense.

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

It's the ball fake for me https://t.co/1qD9DdabZ3

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

𝕊𝕥𝕖𝕡𝕡𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕓𝕒𝕔𝕜 https://t.co/QSHlLiFu19

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

HOW?! https://t.co/Tp3u7HrU8P

All of his work was largely undone by Denver's dreadful defense. Every time Murray or Nikola Jokic would hit a big shot in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets let the Jazz immediately respond with a big shot of their own. Exchanging buckets is a losing strategy for a team that's playing from behind.

Between their work on the boards and Murray's otherworldly performance, this might have been the best shot the Nuggets could land on the Jazz, and the outcome was still a defeat. That doesn't bode well as they attempt an improbable comeback.


What's Next?

Utah can potentially close out the series in Game 5 on Tuesday. The tipoff has yet to be finalized, with coverage on TNT.