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Utah Jazz get another shot at closing out series against Denver Nuggets

After an emotional 48 hours aimed at making an impact for police and criminal reform, Utah must now go through the whiplash of another potential closeout game against Denver.

Utah Jazz v Denver Nuggets - Game Five Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been a long month this week. The shooting of Jacob Blake, the following violence that culminated in a 17 year old crossing state lines and firing his rifle, and the collisions of opposing groups in Portland have been overwhelming regardless of where you stand on the debate. Amid all that turmoil resided a league known for making their platform be heard when it comes to racial justice and criminal reform.

During the 48 hour span of emotions, pain, and soul searching for a group of predominantly 20 year olds, this group of basketball players second, humans first, held out from playing disrupting the playoffs. They demanded more meaningful change from the NBA’s owners toward their platforms and communities. They asked for more work toward civic engagement and aiding people to vote. Their voices were heard. The NBA committed to their action plan.

During that time off, Donovan Mitchell had the launch of his Spider-Sense D.O.N. Issue #2 sneakers. He committed to donated $45,000 of the revenue earned from that sneaker release with Adidas committing an additional $90,000 to the children of the Jacob Blake for their education. Donovan Mitchell is passionate about how education can change the trajectory for minorities in this country. He also knows that his words hold a greater weight due to his fame and he continues to push for justice for Breonna Taylor.

And that’s only what happened on Wednesday through Friday. Games resumed on Saturday and now we are to today’s game vs the Denver Nuggets. Oh—almost forgot—Donovan Mitchell threw his weight in support of the players of Real Salt Lake and said Dell Loy Hansen, owner of Real Salt Lake, should sell the team for his comments about his player’s sitting out in respect to Jacob Blake’s death.

So with what seems to be a tempest raging outside the NBA Bubble in addition to a pandemic, there’s a game with a ball, basket, and hardwood to be played. The importance of it in any other time may feel enormous, but today it may have the feeling of winning at monopoly. You have the chance to win, but your sister stormed out halfway through, your dad is finishing it just to preserve harmony, and everyone is going to remember the blow up that happened over Illinois Avenue more than any victory that took place here today.

That’s where we’re at with today’s game as the Utah Jazz face off against the Denver Nuggets. Like any day during this pandemic, going back to the Utah Jazz’s last game—even though it was only a few days ago—feels like a month ago so let’s review.

The Utah Jazz had a chance to close out the series and it looked like Utah had the game in hand. They had built a double digit lead in the third quarter and looked to be on their way to coasting to a victory. Then things became sloppy. Four out of the Jazz’s fifteen turnovers would happen in the span of four minutes at the end of third. Royce O’Neale somehow became unplayable as he had terrible turnover after bad foul after awful defensive lapse play after play.

Give credit where credit is due, Denver rolled the dice in that third quarter. With their season potentially on the line, Mike Malone opted against bringing out the bench and instead ran his best two guys—Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murrary—all 12 minutes. Utah countered by keeping their two best defensive players Rudy Gobert and Royce O’Neale in the entire time to guard them. But Malone disrupted Utah’s substitution pattern. Rudy would end up playing 41 minutes. He was gassed. Denver got momentum against Gobert, O’Neale and the subs and seemed to have solved Utah’s blender offense in the process.

Going into game 6, Utah has to play like their backs are against the wall. Denver is playing with house money. Their strategy of playing their two top players 41 out of 48 minutes paid off and with the break in action, they didn’t even have to pay the physical consequences of soreness on a quick turnaround. Quin Snyder has to go into this with the idea that Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are going to be on that court all but for a few minutes tonight. Mike Conley may have to be part of that thinking as well due to Denver’s Gary Harris returning to the lineup. The strategy of hopefully going into the next series with days of rest and without a lot of minutes on those legs is gone.

Game Info

When: Sunday, August 30th • 6:30 PM MT

Where: The NBA Bubble, Disney World

TV: TNT, AT&T SportsNet

Radio: 97.5 FM | 1280 AM The Zone

Donovan Mitchell vs Jamal Murray - Part VI

Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray have had more exhilarating duels than Deron Williams and Chris Paul. Each night has been an offensive explosion as both guards have gone supernova. Like watching a What If of Isiah Thomas vs Allen Iverson, these two have put up insane numbers. Donovan Mitchell is averaging 37.6 ppg, 5.6 apg, and 4.0 rpg on 54.5% from the field and 51.2% from three. Jamal Murray is averaging 30.8 ppg, 6.8 apg, and 6.4 rpg on 55.7% from the field and 52.4% from three. These are NBA Jam type numbers.

Neither team has shown an ability to slow down these two. Even in their worst games, they’re still lighting it up. These two will most likely go supernova again tonight. The key for Utah will be to take pressure off of Donovan early by hitting the open shots that will be theirs. In Game 6 both Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale hesitated time and time again to take the open three. By the time that hesitation ended they were either taking a more contested three or forcing action through a dribble drive then kick late in the shot clock.

Mike Conley has been a solid contributor in this series and Jordan Clarkson as well. With both teams firing on all offensive cylinders, the difference in these games is coming down to their 4th and 5th best starters hitting 2-3 more open looks when all eyes are on them. If Ingles and O’Neale can do that, Utah will have enough points to whether any Murray/Jokic explosion.

A Throwback to More Defensive Times?

The Utah Jazz have found themselves in a shootout almost every game minus the Game 3 blowout. Utah cannot stay on course with that strategy with Denver getting back Gary Harris. Gary Harris is a phenomenal perimeter defender and Mitchell will face increased resistance with him out there even if he’s only 70-80% of his former self. That may put more of the scoring burden on Conley and Clarkson tonight, but a more long-term sustainable fix would be Utah FINALLY finding some cohesion with their guys on the defensive end.

Utah has found that offensive flow and rhythm with Conley offensively, but with Harris back in Denver’s lineup, Utah may want to push more Juwan Morgan into the lineup for some defensive umph. Utah getting bigger on the floor while Denver shrinks with Harris slotting next to Murray may allow Utah to put the clamps on Denver and win the way they used to win a couple seasons back by dragging Denver’s Ferrari offense into the mudpit.

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