So … where were we?
Oh, yeah … playoff basketball.
As the Jazz and Nuggets turn their attention, turn their minds, from important societal issues back to the playoffs, a question arises as to who can not only dial in effectively on the less important matter at hand — for our purposes here, meaningful, nonetheless — in Game 6, but who can do so quickly. The big issues addressed among NBA players since teams stopped play in the bubble are significant and real and significantly real heavy.
Anybody who thinks the players were somehow grandstanding or disingenuous regarding their collective stance, that they are a bunch of millionaires who don’t feel the pain of the aforementioned racial issues, is straight wrong.
Playing basketball is their job, but as Chris Paul said it, they are human beings, too, human beings who in large measure care deeply about racial justice in this country and want to see people of color treated equally.
Is that such a big ask?
Unfortunately, it still is, and it is weighing abundantly in their consciousness.
In any year, diving into the intensity of playoff basketball requires mental and physical wherewithal, but more so this time, under these unique conditions, whoever dives best wins.
The Jazz are staring at a close-out Game 6 on Sunday and the Nuggets are facing elimination. When the professional goal is to win playoff series, that’s where individual and team games are established, names are made and legacies are born, nobody has to remind anybody how mandatory winning is, they just might have to reinforce what that winning requires, how that winning is accomplished.
For the Jazz, they must reignite their offensive efficiency and proficiency. Prior to Game 5, they had been fueling that firepower at a burn level rarely achieved, especially in a playoff setting. It sounds stupid to say, but when they were putting the ball through the hoop at a high rate, they were gaining victory. Duh. But in the Jazz’s case they were blowing that rate through the roof. In Games 2, 3 and 4, their field goal percentages were 51.7, 51.2, 57.5. And from deep, they hit 45.5, 48.6, 48.3.
Even in their Game 5 loss, they shot 50%.
But, apparently, against this Nuggets team, that last number isn’t quite good enough. At least it isn’t when a Jazz defense that in past seasons was one of the NBA’s most formidable is now hurting in the attempt to slow Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. During the previous offseason, the Jazz knowingly compromised that resistance, having been ousted from the playoffs in the first round the previous year on account of an inability to score the ball, so they went out and got more capable scorers at the defense’s expense.
Now, even without Bojan Bogdanovic, they can go and go on attack. The question is, can they go and go enough? Especially against a team they cannot seem to stop going and going the other way.
They will eliminate the Nuggets in Game 6, then, if one of two things happens — they light the gym up or they scrounge together just enough defense to make Murray and Jokic uncomfortable. In Game 5, the Denver duo’s comfort level was as wide as Jimmy Kimmel’s.
The Nuggets have a choice of their own to make regarding Donovan Mitchell, who has been meteoric in this series. 1) They can throw the works at him, forcing other Jazz players to score at their created advantage, or 2) the Nugs can mostly stay home and hope Mitchell doesn’t whirl whoever’s on him — and the team as a whole — into oblivion.
Mitchell prides himself now on destroying the first option with his court vision, getting the ball where it needs to go in prompt fashion, but also recognizing his opportunity through Door No. 2, if it swings open.
Each team already has demonstrated it can beat the other. It becomes a matter, on this occasion, of who will. And that comes down to what’s in the mind of these human beings/players more than what’s in the body. Can they, will they dial in?
Whether what Yogi Berra said all those years ago is authentically his or whether he lifted it from somewhere else, his sentiment is 100% bang-on here: 90% of victory in Game 6 will be mental, the other half physical.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.