Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell was “Mic’d Up” for TNT’s broadcast of Wednesday’s Game 2 against the Denver Nuggets, and a post-third quarter highlight segment featured him draining yet another 3 over yet another hapless defender, then turning and yelling, “It ain’t nothing personal!”
Nope, this latest bludgeoningD was all business.
After his 57-point explosion in Game 1, the third-year guard was more surgical though no less devastating in Game 2, racking up 30 points and eight assists as Utah rolled to a 124-105 victory, tying their first-round series at a game apiece.
After a low-key first half that saw him be patient, not force the issue, and settle for six points and four assists against an aggressive, trapping Nuggets defense, he turned it on after the break, dropping 21 points in the third period as Utah blew the game wide open.
After firing up 33 shots the other day en route to putting up the third-highest scoring total in NBA playoff history, Mitchell needed just 14 field-goal attempts Wednesday to make his presence felt.
“It shows you how much he thinks the game, how unselfish he is. He had six [points] at halftime. And then in the third quarter, we needed him to be more aggressive shooting the ball,” said coach Quin Snyder. “And then, frankly, he went back and passed it again. So he is making the right play, and it shows his mentality that he’s able to do what he did the other day, and then tonight, in a different situation against different coverages and adjustments, he continued to make the right play.”
Of course, Mitchell had plenty of assistance, as the Jazz shot 51.7% overall and drained a franchise playoff-record 20 shots from beyond the arc, converting 45.5% of their deep attempts.
JAZZ 124, NUGGETS 105
• Donovan Mitchell scores 21 of his 30 points in the third quarter, and also dishes out eight of Utah’s 32 assists.
• The Jazz rack up 43 points in the third, expanding a 13-point halftime advantage to 27 going into the final period.
• Jordan Clarkson adds 26 points off the bench, as the Jazz beat Denver for the first time this season.
Jordan Clarkson, playing efficiently and more under control than he did Monday, contributed 26 points. All-Star center Rudy Gobert added 19 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. And Joe Ingles had a second straight strong performance, totaling 18 points and six assists.
Utah’s ball movement proved key, as the team registered 32 assists on 45 baskets, while only committing six turnovers the entire game. Mitchell mentioned before the series that he was continuing to evolve as a facilitator, and he proved as much in Game 2.
“The biggest thing for me is just reading the situation. My first few years, I kind of saw the rim, and [it was all about] just being a scorer. And now, I’ve prided myself over [the hiatus] to become a playmaker, find a way to get teammates involved,” Mitchell said afterward. “… Today I just really trusted my teammates, and they did a hell of a job.”
As methodically ruthless as the Jazz were on that end of the court, though, they pretty much all cited their improved defensive effort as the primary factor in their victory.
Denver’s Jamal Murray, who torched the Jazz in the fourth quarter and overtime on Monday, could never get rolling this time around, finishing with just 14 points on 6-for-13 shooting, including only 1 of 2 from 3-point range.
That proved a major factor this time around, as the Nuggets again converted at a high clip beyond the arc (48.1%), but did not get nearly the volume from distance this time around, finishing 13 of 27.
Asked what was different this time around, Gobert responded, “The physicality, the intensity.
“We came out just more physical. Royce O’Neale did a great job, Juwan [Morgan], Joe, all the guys,” he added. “… The main thing is to be disruptive. We felt like last game, we were playing good defense but they weren’t feeling us enough. And we really wanted to make them feel that if they’re going to hit shots, they’re going to have to feel us a little more. Any scorer knows that it’s harder to get comfortable when you have bodies on you.”
A back-and-forth game swings Utah’s way for good with a second quarter-closing 20-6 run that turns a one-point deficit into a 13-point lead.
14 • After torching Utah for 36 points in Game 1, Denver guard Jamal Murray is limited to just 14 points on Wednesday, shooting only 6 for 13.
The potentially pivotal Game 3 between the teams will take place on Friday, with another 2 p.m. MT tipoff.
That was the subtle stuff, though.
Utah’s offense, at full capacity, was about as nuanced as a sledgehammer to the face.
After a mostly competitive, back-and-forth first half, the Jazz took control with a second-quarter-closing 20-6 run, punctuated by a Gobert putback jam at the horn that put Utah up 61-48.
The Jazz opened the second half with a long O’Neale alley-oop to Morgan. And six made 3-pointers in their next seven possessions expanded the lead to 19. Denver briefly rallied, getting the game back to 13 and prompting Snyder to call a timeout and settle things down.
A short time after that, Mitchell all but slammed the door on Utah’s first win over Denver in five tries this season.
A net-ruffling 3-pointer. A blow-by past Murray for a layup-and-one. Suckering Mason Plumlee in on a pump-fake beyond the arc, and converting the subsequent three free trows. Another all-net triple.
The Nuggets had nothing for him. The Jazz, on the other hand, had a 43-point quarter, a 27-point lead, and just 12 minutes to go before the series was tied.
“He cares about his teammates and he wants to win,” Snyder said. “That, for him, trumps any individual performance, and you saw that tonight.”