Jazz Swept By Nuggets In Potential Roller Coaster Playoff Preview
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz have found themselves on the wrong end of three bizarre games against the Denver Nuggets this season. The latest loss came in a double-overtime thriller as the Jazz fell to Denver 134-132 in Orlando.
The Jazz blew an 18 point first-half lead after Denver when the Nuggets took a 100-98 with 43 seconds in regulation on Jamal Murray turnaround jump shot. The Nuggets build a six point lead with 19 seconds remaining for Donovan Mitchell put on his superhero cape and clawed the Jazz back into the game.
Mitchell scored seven points in the final 10.8 seconds of the game, while the Nuggets mustered just one free-throw, and the game went to overtime tied at 105.
Mitchell Makes Right Play At Wrong Time
The Jazz All-Star guard scored eight points in the first overtime to force a second extra period but may have made a critical error for the Jazz on the final play.
With the Jazz and Nuggets tied at 117, Mitchell attacked the Nuggets defense and made a stepback jump shot with 3.4 seconds left. With Rudy Gobert fouled out of the game, Nuggets Center Nikola Jokic took Royce O’Neale to the basket for an easy lay-in to tie the game with .3 seconds remaining.
Mitchell’s excellent shot deserves recognition, but allowing Denver a chance to successfully match his bucket negates the value of the shot. The Jazz guard admitted his mistake after the game.
“I should attack around four or three [seconds remaining], that’s a mental error on my part,” Mitchell said. “I feel like if I do that and hit the same shot, they don’t have an opportunity to do that. So that’s on me.”
Still, difficult to criticize Mitchell who scored 22 points over the final 12:39 of the game to keep the Jazz in striking distance. The Jazz guard finished with 35 points, eight assists, and six rebounds.
Finding Balance In The Second Unit
Quin Snyder continues to look for answers in the second unit. The group finally found its shooting stroke in their sixth seeding game with Georges Niang and Jordan Clarkson combining for 8-14 from the three-point line. The group is nearly non-existent when either player struggles to shoot, but that wasn’t the game against Denver.
Snyder turned to rookie Miye Oni in place of Rayjon Tucker with Emmanuel Mudiay out with a leg injury and had terrific success. Oni’s stat line won’t turn many heads, finishing with three points, two rebounds, one assist, and one steal against the Nuggets in 10 minutes. However, the Jazz were an impressive +15 with Oni on the floor, playing mistake-free basketball.
Oni is a heady player who defends, willingly moves the ball, and shoots with confidence when he is on the floor. The Jazz need someone to step in and take over the fourth man off the bench role and Oni has been the most successful of any player so far in Orlando.
Watch to see if the rookie gets more minutes over the final three seeding games.
Getting swept by a team in the regular season, then meeting them in the playoffs is hardly a recipe for success. However, it wasn’t hard to see why the Nuggets might be a favorable matchup for the Jazz over both the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Simply put, the Nuggets let the Jazz run their offense which leads to a lot of wide-open threes. Better yet, Jokic struggles to defend the Gobert pick and roll, which led to a terrific first half from the Jazz big man. Gobert finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out in overtime.
Troubling, however, the Jazz hit a franchise-best 21 threes and still lost the game. The Jazz were 12-21 in the first half shooting which led to the 14 point lead at the break. However, they began the second half just 4-21 from deep before Mitchell’s late-game heroics pushed the game to overtime.
Gobert was self-critical regarding the Jazz fourth quarter collapse.
“Fourth quarter, I didn’t play the same way for the first three quarters,” Gobert said. “And it was mostly on me. I missed things I probably won’t miss again,”
Gobert had 14 points at the half but managed to score only eight points over the final two quarters and overtime. The All-Star missed two free throws with three minutes remaining in the game that would have been the difference in regulation.
Jokic, Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. would be a difficult three-headed monster for the Jazz to face without Bojan Bogdanovic. Not unbeatable, but the odds wouldn’t be in the Jazz favor. Snyder would have to draw up a game plan to eliminate one of the three and hope that’s enough for the Jazz to advance.
If the Jazz are hoping to face the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs, the outcome was helpful on two fronts. First, the Jazz dropped to the sixth seed behind the Thunder in the Western Conference Standings. The Jazz are 43-27 while the Thunder are 42-26. Because the Thunder have a better winning percentage, they would earn the higher seed come playoff time.
The Nuggets win further entrenches them into the third seed. With three games left to play, the Nuggets trail the Los Angeles Clippers by 1.5 games for the second seed and lead the Rockets by two games for the fourth seed.
It’s far to early to predict how the seedings will finish, especially with teams potentially willing to sit players to lose certain games to close the season, but as of Saturday, the Jazz may have their ideal first-round playoff matchup.
The Jazz and Mavericks tip-off Monday at 1 pm MT. The game will be broadcast nationally on NBATV and locally on AT&T SportsNet.