It was some kind of trip hearing the question posed to Quin Snyder in the immediate aftermath of the Utah Jazz’s 124-87 Game 3 victory over Denver on Friday: Following two straight blowout wins, do you now have to guard against complacency?
My, how far they’ve come.
Considering the Jazz’s double-overtime seeding game loss to the Nuggets just two short weeks ago had planted seeds of doubt about Utah’s capacity to vanquish its Northwest Division rival, and considering the Jazz’s overtime loss in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series a mere one week ago had exponentially compounded such concerns, this newfound talk of potential overconfidence seemed mind-blowingly misplaced.
For what it’s worth, Snyder seemed to agree.
“This is the playoffs. A part of the playoffs is being able to get to the next game … We have to be ready to play the next game and maintain our focus and our intensity and that will be the challenge. I think our team is capable of doing that. I think they want to do that. Honestly, we are playing against a very good team. [Friday], the score was lopsided, but we’ve had a couple of overtime games. We’ve had really difficult games with them throughout the year. They’ve beat us. We have to keep doing the things that we feel like we need to do to be successful. … You can’t focus on what’s behind, you have to focus on what’s in front of you.”
Nevertheless, it’s quite a dramatic transition going from never being quite able to beat a team to having it suggested that boredom might be the only viable reason you might ever lose to them again.
If it sounds over-the-top, it is, but then, back-to-back victories of 19 and 37 points, respectively, can have that effect. Furthermore, it’s not as though the Jazz were blown off the court in any of their previous three meetings, falling by six, three, two (in overtime) and 10 points (in double-OT) in those matchups.
Perhaps most telling of all is that, despite those losses to Denver in the regular season and seeding games, the Nuggets were the playoff matchup the Jazz targeted, the team that they tanked for.
So, from that perspective, it makes perfect sense for the Jazz to be cautiously confident against this team.
And it sure beats the alternative. Besides, Mike Conley said he’d been an emotional-enough wreck for everyone else anyway.
The veteran point guard explained that watching Games 1 and 2 on TV after leaving the bubble for the birth of his son was a nerve-wracking and patience-testing experience that had him practically crawling out of his skin to get back on the court and help his teammates out.
“I’m not a guy that gets nervous during games, but I was about as nervous as you can get,” Conley said. “Just preparing for the games, just watching them on TV, I’m like a super-fan and I get anxious, I start to sweat, I sit there and I’m yelling at the guys on the screen, texting the guys during the game — even though I know they’re not going to respond — just giving them my thoughts and stuff. Just being a fan and being supportive. But it is definitely hard to watch, without being out there.”
And so it was that, despite all his pent-up eagerness to play, when Conley did get out there, he was not only able to channel his energy and emotions and be productive, he was yet another weapon unleashed on a seemingly helpless Denver defense, as he hit 7 of 8 tries from 3-point range and dropped in 27 points and four assists in his return to action Friday.
Of course, Utah’s considerable stockpile of weapons is perhaps not only the biggest difference between the teams thus far, but the mother of all ironies as well, considering Bojan Bogdanovic’s wrist surgery was once thought to have left the Jazz too bereft of supporting talent to get beyond the first round.
And while it’s not a fait accompli yet that they will pull that off, it won’t be because of a dearth of contributions around Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.
Sure, Mitchell averaging 43.5 points and 7.5 assists in those first two games was huge. But so too has been Gobert boosting his offensive output to 20 ppg thus far. And Joe Ingles averaging 13.0 points and 6.7 assists while converting 40.9% of his 7.3 deep attempts per game. And Jordan Clarkson scoring 18.3 off the bench. And Georges Niang finding his rhythm to the tune of 10 ppg and 37.5% beyond the arc. And Royce O’Neale averaging 7.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists while hitting 55.6% on 3s — to say nothing of the defense he’s played on Denver’s Jamal Murray.
“We’ve got four playmakers out there the majority of the time; we can shoot the ball; with Rudy running and rolling to the rim like he has been, we’ve got a lot of options out of what we can do offensively,” Ingles said after Saturday’s practice.
And it’s been apparent.
In the playoffs, going into Saturday’s slate of games, the Jazz are leading the league in points per game and offensive rating. They’re tops in field-goal percentage and 3-pointers made. They’re first in second-chance points and second in points in the paint, as well as second across the board in drives, drive points per game, and field-goal percentage on drives. They’re third in restricted-area field-goal percentage, leading to them having the fourth-highest percentage of points coming in the paint. But they’re also fifth in corner 3-point percentage, which has helped make them second in percentage of points coming on 3s. And, reinforcing their mantra of being unselfish, they’re fourth in assists per game.
Those are all incredible developments for a team playing without its second-leading scorer.
Still, questions of complacency aside, there does not appear to be enough hubris going around to support the belief that this series is somehow over.
“You can expect a really aggressive team coming out in Game 4,” Mitchell said of the Nuggets. “… They’ll be ready. It’s on us to make sure that we continue to raise our level, as well.”
“It’s 2-1 and [there’s] a long way to go,” Ingles agreed. “We’ve got a focused group right now and we’re gonna be ready to go [Sunday].”
Jazz lead best-of-seven series 2-1
Game 1 • Nuggets 135, Jazz 125 (OT)
Game 2 • Jazz 124, Nuggets 105
Game 3 • Jazz 124, Nuggets 87
Game 4 • Sunday, 7 p.m. MT, TNT
Game 5 • Tuesday, time and TV TBD
Game 6 • Thursday, time TBD, ESPN*
Game 7 • Aug. 29, time TBD, TNT*