A 3-1 series lead in the first round — seems familiar, doesn’t it?
That’s the situation the Jazz found themselves in last year in Orlando’s NBA playoff bubble, when the Jazz held a 3-1 series lead to the No. 3 seed Denver Nuggets. But the Jazz let their series lead slip away by losing three consecutive games, ending their tumultuous season — the 12th time in NBA history a team had lost a 3-1 playoff lead.
“We felt like, ‘Oh, it’s OK. They’ve got to win three more times,’” Donovan Mitchell explained about his team’s loss last year. And then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t OK: the team lost.
So that experience, Jazz players say, is keeping their focus level high in Game 5 (the home game against the Memphis Grizzlies will take place on Wednesday evening at 7:30 p.m. MT, the league announced on Monday night) just as it was in Games 2-4.
“We obviously remember that feeling that we had last season,” Mike Conley said. “And it’s not something we want to experience again.”
It is a different team, with several advantages. First, the Jazz have Bojan Bogdanovic healthy and available this year, after he missed the 2020 series due to wrist surgery. They also have Derrick Favors, who at this time last year was at home watching the playoffs on TV along with the rest of the New Orleans Pelicans. The Jazz believe Jordan Clarkson has played this season at a higher level than he did last year — he in now the NBA’s reigning 6th Man of the Year — and Conley said his comfort level is at its highest point, after an acclimation period in his first season with the Jazz.
“This is a different year and this is a different team,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, while citing the above list of changes to his rotation. “I think there’s a maturity. We’ve been through a lot. And I think when that happens — all of us, whether it’s personally or certainly with the team, you pull each other along.”
JAZZ VS. GRIZZLIES
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
When • Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
TV • NBA TV, ATTSN
Snyder said that the path to success in Game 5, and, really, the whole playoffs is “just to be consistently competitive in our execution.” He pointed to the eight rebounds delivered by Royce O’Neale in Game 4 as an example of that competitiveness that has waxed and waned through the series: O’Neale, standing just 6-4, garnered many of those rebounds while fighting against the Hulkish Jonas Valanciunas.
“Having that [experience of last year] will allow us to kind of come in and say, ‘All right, this is what we’ve got to do: one more hit, one more sprint to the corner. Getting back on defense, taking the foul, whatever it may be,” Mitchell said. Whereas the Jazz dropped the ball on the little things last season, they know they can’t get away with it this year.
“We didn’t really come in the locker room like, ‘We got ‘em.’ The job’s not done. It’s not finished. I think that’s the message. I know that’s the message,” said Mitchell. “One through 17, coaches, and everybody. We have to go and take care of home court back in Utah.”
Rudy Gobert, too, stands wary of the Grizzlies ability to fight in elimination situations.
“They’ve won two of those games before the playoffs,” Gobert said, referencing their wins against the Spurs and the Warriors in the play-in games that allowed them to face the Jazz at all. “So they’ve been in that situation before — win or go home. They’re going to come in and play really hard and try to beat us.”
There is a high level of confidence in the Jazz in being able to complete the series win. Right now, you’d have to bet $15,000 to win $100 back in Vegas if you want to bet on the Jazz winning the series, an implied probability of 99.3% that the Jazz win one of the next three games in the series. And the Jazz have actually jumped to the No. 1 spot as Western Conference favorites in the eyes of Vegas, leapfrogging the Lakers and Clippers as those teams stand tied in their first-round series, 2-2.
That series advantage could stand to give the Jazz a bit of a break, if they win on Wednesday while their opponents need at least two more games to close out their series. If the Jazz were to win Game 5, the soonest they could play in the second round would be on Sunday, giving them three days off to rest and prepare — which might be especially helpful for Mitchell, coming off an ankle injury.
The Jazz used the old cliche, saying they’re taking their battle “one game at a time.: But that has the potential to pay off, if they can do it repeatedly.
“It’s about matching the physicality and playing our basketball — do what we do defensively and offensively and just keep getting better,” Gobert said. “We don’t want to just be in the second round. We’re trying to do something even bigger than that.”