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Jazz earn 3-1 lead as Mitchell goes for 50 (again)

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Spida out-dueled Jamal Murray, who also went for 50 points on the night.

NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Utah Jazz Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

With just under a minute left in Utah’s dramatic 129-127 victory over the Denver Nuggets, Donovan Mitchell sized up former Jazzman, Paul Milsap, on the left wing. Moments before, Milsap had emphatically swatted away Mitchell’s layup attempt that would have given Utah a three point lead.

And without skipping a beat, Mitchell faked a quick dribble-drive, putting Milsap on his back heels and proceeded to knock down a 3-pointer right in the forward’s eye for the 122-118 lead with 54 ticks left on the clock. Mitchell then turned and shouted to the cameras, the media, his teammates, anyone who had ears to hear:

“I WANT THIS SH-T!”

If nothing else, that much was clearly apparent in Mitchell’s night. The 23-year old scored 51 points — that late 3-pointer put him at 46 — to become just the fourth player in NBA history to score 50 points twice in a single playoff series. And boy did the Jazz need every last one of those points.

For starters, Spida wasn’t the only man on the court to have a dominant scoring night. Jamal Murray, a fellow 23-year old, also reached the half-century mark. As it turns out, this game was the first time in NBA playoff history that two opposing players each scored at least 50 points. And were it not for Mitchell, Murray would have single-handedly turned the fortunes of this game.

Spanning the moments between Utah’s 97-89 lead and its 109-108 lead with 4:47 remaining, Murray scored 13 of his 50 points, draining a trio of triples and two more shots inside the arc. When two Mitchell free throws gave Utah some breathing room at 117-113 with 1:43 to go, Murray once again menaced the Jazz with a 3-pointer to bring it back to a one-point contest.

Murray wasn’t the only problem for the Jazz on defense, however. Even on the occasion that Murray, or anyone else from Denver, did actually miss during this game, the Jazz could hardly manage to grab the rebound. Of the Nuggets’ 51 missed FGA on the night, 17 landed back into their waiting hands, AKA exactly one-third of those misses. It turned 17 solid defensive possessions into extra scoring opportunities for Denver and they put up 29 points on said second chances.

Aside from those defensive snafus, though, the Jazz were good tonight. Not elite, but good.

Buried behind the headlines and paragraphs praising Mitchell and/or Murray was the fact that two other Jazz guards — Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson — dominated offensively, keeping Utah afloat when Mitchell was on the bench, or complimenting his play when sharing minutes. Conley carried his dad form from last time out to Sunday, shooting 4 of 8 from three and scoring 26 points.

Clarkson had 24 of his own off the bench, making 9 of his 13 attempts (4 of 7 from three), once again showing his worth as a second-unit star.

The supporting play of Clarkson and Conley will be forever underrated in this game but needs to be mentioned because aside from them and Mitchell, no one else had a scoring touch for most of the night. Gobert did get 17 points, but it was a much quieter 17, far different from nights where his gravity on pick-and-rolls forces the opposing D to tie itself into knots. And aside from Gobert, no Jazz player had more than five points. Joe Ingles even put up a goose egg scoring-wise and only had one assist in his 35 minutes.

The long and short of this game was that Denver gave pretty much its best effort it could give — a career night from Murray, a 29/7/6 night from Nikola Jokic, a heroic performance on the offensive glass — and the Jazz won anyway.

In a way that sentiment it mirrors Game 1 where many similar talking points were made but in favor of the Nuggets who won the series opener despite 57 points from Mitchell. But unlike Game 1, this night held enormous stakes. The Jazz were riding high on two consecutive games where they plastered Denver, though it had only given Utah a 2-1 leg up. A Nuggets win in Game 4 would have reset the series at 2-2, wiped out momentum and set up another emotionally grueling contest in Game 5 with series control completely up for grabs.

Instead, the Jazz retain their momentum and the Nuggets may simply be spent at this point. What will likely be their best game of the playoffs is now behind them and it availed them not.