Mitchell Masterpiece Evens Jazz Series With Nuggets

Aug 19, 2020, 6:54 PM | Updated: 11:57 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – After scoring a historic 57 points against the Denver Nuggets the Jazz game one loss, it would make sense for Donovan Mitchell to replicate his plan of attack and even the series in game two. At least, that’s what Denver thought. The Jazz guard followed his game one brilliance with another masterpiece in game two, leading the Jazz to a 124-105 series-tying win.

Mitchell scored 30 points, handed out eight assists, and needed only 14 shots to do it as the Jazz now look for a chance to take the series lead in game three. The Nuggets sent extra defenders at Mitchell throughout the game to take the ball out of his hands, forcing his teammates to beat him, and they did so with ease.

The third-year guard dissected the Nuggets defense as a playmaker in the first half, before looking to ice the game as a scorer in the second. Mitchell penetrated the Nuggets perimeter defense repeatedly throughout the first two quarters, finding open shooters and throwing Denver’s defense into a flurry of rotations, allowing the Jazz to knockdown 10 first-half threes. The guard had six points and four assists at the half.

Then, once again, Mitchell went supernova for the Jazz. The guard had 21 points, three assists, and only one turnover in the third period. More impressively, he did it on just 7 shot attempts, connecting on six, including all five of his three-point attempts.

The Evolution Of Donovan Mitchell With the Jazz

Mitchell’s performance is a stark change from his last playoff outing. The Jazz guard repeatedly stumbled into the team’s 2019 playoff campaign against the Houston Rockets. Despite averaging 21 points per game, Mitchell shot just 32 percent from the floor and 25 percent from the three-point line. Worse yet, he couldn’t find his teammates when he looked to make plays. The guard finished with a negative assist to turnover ration, giving the ball away 21 times while recording only 16 assists.

In the 2020 postseason, Mitchell appears to be a totally different player. The Jazz guard has repeatedly made the right play when his scoring lane is cut off, and against the Nuggets, it blew open game two.

“My first two years I kind of saw the rim being a scorer,” Mitchell said. “And now I prided myself over quarantine on how to become a playmaker. Finding ways to evolve and it may not always be scoring. I think today I just really trusted my teammates.”

The guard made countless spectacular passes whether he was drawing double teams near half-court, or collapsing the Nuggets defense in the paint. Mitchell consistently found open shooters on the perimeter, leading to a franchise-record 20 made threes in the game. Jazz coach Quin Snyder said it’s a testament to Mitchell’s basketball IQ.

“It shows how much he thinks the game,” Snyder said. “How unselfish he is.”

Perhaps most devastating to the Nuggets defense was Mitchell’s ability to differentiate between scoring and playmaking in a moment’s notice.

“In the third quarter, we needed him to be more aggressive shooting the ball he had opportunities,” Snyder said. “And then, frankly, he went back and passed it again. So he’s making the right play.”

Mitchell’s performance marked his sixth game scoring at least 30 points over the first 18 playoff appearances of his career.

Juwan Morgan Continues to Flourish

On August 7, Juwan Morgan landed awkwardly on his knee at the end of a meaningless game against the San Antonio Spurs, and initially, it looked serious. The rookie didn’t put weight on the leg as he left the floor before being helped into a wheelchair on the sideline.

As an undrafted rookie on a non-guaranteed contract, a serious injury could have potentially ended Morgan’s NBA career. Less than two weeks later, not only has Morgan returned to the court, he’s likely guaranteed himself a spot on an NBA roster next season, and maybe a multi-year deal.

Morgan started his second consecutive game for the Jazz, scored five points and grabbing just two rebounds, but flashed the versatility on both ends the team has lacked in the frontcourt. The Indiana product can space the floor, showing a willingness and ability to connect on corner three-point shots, mixed with a surprising amount of athleticism in the open court. Morgan’s play drew the praise his frontcourt teammate Rudy Gobert.

“He was a veteran out there,” Gobert said. “First start in the playoffs and you handle the pressure. He did everything we asked him to do.”

Morgan’s biggest test came in the third quarter when he was tasked with defending All-Star Nikola Jokic to begin the second half. The rookie held Jokic to 2-5 shooting for six points over a five and a half minute stretch.

The break allowed Gobert time to defend the paint away from Jokic, and not risk falling into foul trouble. Gobert has fouled out of each of the last two games against Denver in the overtime periods.

After leading the team in plus-minus in game one Morgan has helped the Jazz starters find a huge advantage over Denver. The Jazz have a net rating of 25.6 with the starters on the court, allowing the team to start the first and third quarters with positive momentum.

With Mike Conley back in Orlando, and Morgan playing well in the starting lineup, the team’s coaching staff will face an interesting dilemma on who to start, or how to get Morgan on the floor the remainder of the series.

Rudy Gobert’s Much Needed Sequence

Gobert has tried to downplay the importance of his one on one matchup against Jokic in this series. The two All-Stars are constantly measured against one another through the regular season, and Jokic had gotten the better of the two through the first four meetings of the year.

At the end of the second quarter, Gobert turned the tides in his favor. In the Nuggets final possession of the first half, Jokic attempted to drive around Gobert for a late clock runner. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year anticipated Jokic’s attack and emphatically blocked the attempt to force a shot clock violation.

On the ensuing possession, Jordan Clarkson’s end of clock floater bounced high off the rim where Gobert caught it and threw down a powerful dunk to cap a 9-0 run to end the first half a build a 13 point lead going into the third quarter.

Gobert doesn’t need to beat Jokic one on one, but he can’t let the matchup dictate his enormous impact elsewhere on the floor. Jokic finished with an impressive stat line, posting 28 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists, but was a game-worst -23 in plus-minus. Meanwhile, Gobert finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, and three assists, but posted an impressive +23 plus-minus.

Jordan Clarkson In his Groove

Clarkson hasn’t struggled against the Nuggets at any point this season. He posted a season-high average of 24 points per game against Denver is just 26 minutes. Despite poor shooting from three in the series opener, the Jazz sixth man still posted 18 points, four rebounds, and three assists.

However, in game two, Clarkson once again looked like the stellar weapon he had been against the Nuggets in the regular season. The shifty guard scored 26 points on 9-18 shooting, including 4-9 from three to keep the Jazz second unit ahead of Denver after building an early lead. The Jazz bench has had significant struggles in Orlando, but Clarkson’s performance helped alleviate the pressure.

The Nuggets have had the worst defense in the NBA during the league’s restart in Orlando, with a significant issue coming from the team’s flatfooted perimeter defense. The Nuggets have committed their best wing defenders to Mitchell, allowing Clarkson to find easier opportunities against the Denver defense.

Conley had similar success against the Nuggets during the regular season and should be able to provide a similar boost when he returns.

The Jazz and Nuggets tip-off game three at 2 pm MT on Friday. The game will be broadcast nationally on TNT and locally on AT&T Sports.

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