Donovan Mitchell Scores 51 to Outduel Jamal Murray as Jazz Defeat NuggetsAugust 24, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Murray, meanwhile, was getting whatever he wanted on offense.
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.
Utah can potentially close out the series in Game 5 on Tuesday. The tipoff has yet to be finalized, with coverage on TNT.