The Western Conference playoff games on Sunday did not disappoint. After Luka Doncic’s stunning game-winner to lift the Dallas Mavericks past the Los Angeles Clippers in overtime, the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets followed up with a thriller of their own. Thanks to another big game from Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz escaped with a 129-127 win to take a 3-1 series lead.
After losing Game 1 in overtime, the Jazz bounced back with three straight wins to take control of this series. Mitchell has stepped up in a major way, and on Sunday night finished with 51 points and seven assists for his second 50-point game of the series. They’re one win away from advancing to the second round for the third time in four seasons.
Jamal Murray had it going for the Nuggets again, finishing with 50 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for a new playoff career-high, but this time around he wasn’t able to drag the Nuggets to victory. Denver now has to win three games in a row in order to avoid a second straight early exit from the postseason.
Here are some key takeaways from the game:
Mitchell vs. Murray II
The 2020 NBA playoffs started with a thrilling duel between Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray in Game 1 of this series, as the two went back and forth before the Nuggets pulled out the overtime win. On Sunday night they ran it back, somehow at an even higher level, and this time Mitchell was victorious.
Everyone else might as well have left the court in the fourth quarter of Game 4, as Mitchell and Murray traded basket for basket. Mitchell poured in 18 of his 51 in the fourth, including a step-back 3-pointer right in Paul Millsap’s face to close the show. Murray’s 21 in the fourth, meanwhile were not enough.
Together, the duo made all sorts of history on the night. They became the first opponents ever to each score 50 points in the same playoff game as Murray’s 50 were a career-high and a franchise playoff record and Mitchell became just the third player ever to score 50-plus twice in the same series. The others were Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson.
If you missed this game, the full highlights from these two are well worth watching.
Nuggets on the ropes
The Nuggets have been one of the best teams in the Western Conference in each of the past two seasons, finishing second last season, and third this time around. Unfortunately, as they’re on the verge of another early playoff exit, it might be time to start wondering if they’re just a regular-season team.
These are strange circumstances playing in the bubble, and they’re missing two key members of their rotation in Gary Harris and Will Barton. But they aren’t the only team dealing with those sorts of issues; the Jazz are without one of their best scorers in Bojan Bogdanovic, and Mike Conley missed Games 1 and 2 as well.
At halftime, the guys on Inside the NBA made a good point about Denver, in regards to coach Michael Malone asking for more effort from his players in Game 4: if your coach has to ask you to play hard in a crucial playoff game, you’re already in trouble.
Now, the Nuggets are faced with winning three straight games against a Jazz team they haven’t been able to slow down at all. Since NBA series went to best-of-seven, only 11 teams have ever come back from a 3-1 deficit, the most recent being the Cavaliers in the 2016 Finals.
Conley shines again
Mike Conley missed Games 1 and 2 of this series to go home for the birth of his child, and while it was one hundred percent the right decision, it was also a big blow to the Jazz. The veteran point guard had been playing great basketball in the bubble, and his absence, coupled with Bojan Bogdanovic’s injury, left Utah without two of their best players heading into a tough series with the Nuggets.
They managed to go 1-1 without him, and now that he’s back at Disney World, Conley is showing just how important he is to this team. Coming off a 27-point, four-assist effort in their Game 3 win, he nearly matched that in Game 4, finishing with 26 points and four assists, including nine in the fourth quarter.
While he didn’t have a great start to his time in Utah, these last few games have shown exactly why the Jazz were so eager to acquire him. He’s been through countless playoff battles in his career, and his ability to play off the ball and knock down open 3s helps open up the floor for Mitchell. If he keeps playing like this, the Jazz are going to be tough to beat.