Full Team Effort Helps Jazz Sweep Games 3 And 4 In Memphis

Jun 1, 2021, 12:25 AM | Updated: 12:43 am
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell defends Memphis Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks (Photo by Justin For...
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell defends Memphis Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz aced two major tests in Memphis winning games three and four, and return home to Salt Lake City with a chance to close out the series Wednesday in game five.

Donovan Mitchell scored 30 points in 35 minutes despite shooting just 8-22 from the floor to carry the heaviest load for the Jazz offensively who beat Memphis 120-113.

Ja Morant had his lowest scoring output of the series, leading Memphis with 23 points but needing 21 shots to get there, and never fully taking over long stretches of the game.

Not All 3-1s Are Created Equal

The Jazz find themselves leading a series 3-1 in nearly identical fashion to last season against the Denver Nuggets. After dropping a close game in the series opener, the Jazz have reeled off three straight victories and have all the momentum at their back.

Just as they did last year, the Jazz will have three chances to advance to the second round of the playoffs, with their first opportunity coming Wednesday in Salt Lake City.

But, just because there are similarities to how these two playoff series have opened, doesn’t mean the Jazz are in serious danger of suffering the same fate as last season.

Let’s discuss why.

First and foremost, the Jazz are the better team this year, and that probably wasn’t the case last season. The Jazz may have gotten the two best performances of the series from Donovan Mitchell, scoring 57 points in a game one loss and 51 points in a game four victory, but overall didn’t have the best team on the floor entering each game of the series.

If you recall, Bojan Bogdanovic missed the entire postseason after undergoing season-ending wrist surgery in May, while Mike Conley missed the first two games of the series to attend the birth of his child. Additionally, the Jazz have replaced the backup center minutes of Tony Bradley and Juwan Morgan with veteran Derrick Favors.

“This is a different year and this is a different team,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We’ve got Bojan back, Derrick is here this year.”

While Denver got an out-of-this-world series from Jamal Murray and had to face a future MVP candidate in Nikola Jokic, the Grizzlies have struggled to find answers outside of Morant and Dillon Brooks.

Now, just as it was when they swept the Grizzlies over three games in four outings in March, it’s apparent the Jazz simply have more talent than the young Memphis roster. If Rudy Gobert isn’t playing well, Favors will. If Conley is having an off night, Jordan Clarkson will be on. If Joe Ingles is quiet, Royce O’Neale will be loud.

The Jazz have repeatedly found answers in their depth, and they did so again in game four.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, the Jazz have two chances to close the series at home, and may only need one.

After losing game one last season, the Jazz won three consecutive games in Orlando without ever having a home crowd behind them. Then, just as the winds shifted in their favor, they turned once again on the Disney World Campus as the Jazz watched three close games slip out of their hands.

While it isn’t impossible to lose the next three, the Jazz proved to be the best home team in the NBA this season, and it seems unlikely they’d lose three out of four home games in the first round of this series.

Third and finally, the Jazz now understand how quickly a 3-1 series lead can slip away.

“We played up to being this team that we’ve been because of that moment and I would say that fueled a lot of this season,” Mitchell said. “We’re here again and we’re going to go out there and do what we.”

While this team may have different pieces, the taste of last year’s disappointing playoff exit is still fresh in the players’ minds and they don’t seem interested in another early ending.

Jazz Roles Players Step Up In Memphis

While Mitchell’s 30 points carried the Jazz through several difficult stretches of offense, the team’s role players made their biggest contributions of the series in game four.

Jordan Clarkson had by far his best outing, scoring 24 points on 8-18 shooting after averaging 15 points on just 36 percent shooting through the first three games of the series.

“You get the sense that when he misses, he keeps shooting,” Snyder said of the Sixth Man of the Year award winner. “To that extent, he’s mentally tough enough to take the next shot, but he’s also someone that cares so deeply about that playing well and about helping the team.”

Royce O’Neale, who has been steady throughout the playoffs came up big on the road scoring nine points, grabbing nine rebounds, while recording three takeaways.

Two of O’Neale’s rebounds came late in the fourth quarter while forcing a turnover on a Memphis inbounds play late in the game.

“He’s such a competitor and he’s a smart player,” Snyder said. “When you have that mindset that you want to impact the game any way you can, you usually find ways to do it.”

Joe Ingles added five rebounds and four assists, while Derrick Favors played 15 important minutes, giving Gobert a spell after getting into foul trouble in the second quarter, scoring eight points on 4-5 shooting.

In total, the Jazz bench of Ingles, Favors, Clarkson, and Georges Niang scored 40 points, outdueling the 30 points from the Grizzlies second unit, and help the Jazz earn the win.

Snyder Continues To Manage Minutes

Though all four games of the series have been within single digits in the fourth quarter, no Jazz player has seen an exaggerated jump in playoff minutes.

Through four games, Conley’s 37 minute, 11-second outing in game two is the most minutes accrued by any one player so far in the series.

Meanwhile, Memphis as had at least one player register 39 minutes or more in each game of the series.

“It’s tough physically but more so mentally just knowing the pressure of each possession and the gravity of the situation you’re out there, it’s a lot to carry,” Conley said of increased playoff minutes. “We have a team that we rely heavily on eight or nine guys, and guys who can split those minutes up.”

Snyder has stuck to a deeper rotation, even as Mitchell’s minute restriction has climbed from 25 minutes, to 30 minutes, to 35 minutes in game four, and it’s paid off.

The dedication to maintain bench minutes has led to two rough stretches to open the fourth quarters in Memphis but has left extra gas in the game to close games. In game three, the Jazz closed the final four minutes on a 14-2 run to secure the victory.

In game four, after leading by three with 4:14 remaining, the Jazz went on a 7-0 run to take a 116-106, effectively ending the game in Memphis with two and a half minutes left to play.

The Jazz now return home Wednesday relatively well-rested, with a chance to become the first team in the Western Conference to advance out of the opening round.

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