After blowing out the Nuggets in Game 3 on Friday, the Utah Jazz entered Sunday night’s Game 4 with a chance to take a commanding 3-1 series lead over 3-seeded Denver.
The Nuggets, backs against the wall, weren’t going to roll over and came out with a new starting five, moving Monte Morris and Jerami Grant in for Torrey Craig and Michael Porter Jr, and followed the lead of their two stars to make things very difficult for Utah. Murray had 50 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists in a virtuoso performance, but in a reversal of Game 1, this time it was Donovan Mitchell who got to hand someone a loss in a career-night. Mitchell, for the second time this series, dropped 51 on the Jazz and continues to assert himself as one of the playoff’s most dominant offensive forces, and this time his Herculean effort went towards a 129-127 victory.
The Jazz took a 3-1 series lead with the victory, but Denver showed great fight and proved they won’t just hand Utah the series. Here are our three takeaways from Sunday night’s thriller.
1. The shot-making in the Bubble is absurd
It’s been a theme throughout the playoffs, but this game really highlighted just how amazing the shot-making has been in Orlando. Murray and Mitchell weren’t walking into wide open looks all night and while there’s something to be said for some defensive woes for both teams (we’ll get to that in a moment), a lot of what we saw on Sunday was just great offense. Murray was making seemingly everything he tossed up from deep, no matter which direction he came off the bounce, and was simply willing his team into the game.
Jamal Murray is on 🔥
— NBA (@NBA) August 24, 2020
For Mitchell, it was the same story on the other side as he carved up the Denver defense and even when they got a solid closeout and contest, he buried shots between their eyes.
Spida (51 PTS) was unstoppable tonight 😱
Mitchell and Utah take a 3-1 series lead! pic.twitter.com/UoCiDtZZRt
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) August 24, 2020
— NBA (@NBA) August 24, 2020
Those two young star guards exemplified the shot-making we’ve seen in the Bubble — see also: Luka Doncic v. Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams from earlier today. There are shooters gyms in Orlando and we’re reaping the rewards in the form of some all-time performances, and it’s just a blast to soak it all in.
2. The Nuggets defense is a problem (and not in the good, snorting emojis way)
There’s certainly a point where you just have to tip your cap to Mitchell and company, but it’s just way too easy for a Jazz offense that no one would’ve confused with an elite group prior to the playoffs. Mitchell has stepped his game up in a massive way, but it’s too easy for him to get into a rhythm. The Nuggets have tried everything against him, but simply don’t have the personnel to bother him for 48 minutes. They miss Gary Harris desperately as they don’t have anyone that can apply consistent pressure to Mitchell on the ball without fouling and also without giving up a lot on offense (both of which are problems for Torrey Craig).
There’s almost no one capable of protecting the rim, as no one confuses Jokic with a strong defender, and those issues shone brightly down the stretch as they didn’t get a single stop in the final three minutes of the game. It doesn’t matter how great your offense is, if you can’t get one (1) stop when you need it, you stand no chance long-term. Denver might be able to shoot their way into another win, but it’s hard to see how this series goes much further than six with the Nuggets defense the way it is.
3. The Jazz might have a path to the conference finals
It was almost unfathomable to think of a week ago given what this offense looked like without Bojan Bogdanovic, but with Mike Conley coming to life in the Bubble, some great play from Jordan Clarkson, and the leap forward taken by Donovan Mitchell, this is suddenly a team that looks extremely formidable. They’ll face either the Clippers or the Mavs in the second round as that series is tied at 2-2, and neither of those defenses has looked especially formidable. Luka Doncic is torching the Clippers vaunted perimeter defense on a nightly basis, and while it’s taking spectacular efforts from him to gut out wins, Mitchell is showing he’s capable of similar brilliance. Depth remains a question, but Quin Snyder has pressed all the right buttons in this series, finding a defensive gem in Juwan Morgan, and their starters have been blistering the Nuggets all series. A lot of this comes down to Mitchell continuing to play like a top 10 player in the NBA, but so far he’s looked the part through four games of this series and he will enter the second round with immense confidence he can continue on this pace.