Donovan Mitchell is quietly showing that he doesn’t always need to score in bunches to dominate a basketball game.
Mitchell set a franchise playoff scoring record for the Utah Jazz in a Game 1 loss to the Denver Nuggets. In Game 2, he settled into a distributor role for much of the game. The All-Star guard still finished with 30 points, but outside from a 21-point third-quarter outburst, he did most of his damage by getting his teammates involved early.
It paid off big time for the Jazz, who earned a 124-105 victory over Denver on Wednesday and look capable of taking control of the Western Conference first-round series heading into Game 3 on Friday near Orlando.
Mitchell felt pressure from the Nuggets early after he torched them for 57 points on Monday. He found a way to adapt and turn it to his advantage.
“They did a great job, just trying to make it tough on me,” Mitchell said. “They (stopped) it early, but for me it’s all about adapting, understanding that the lanes that were there for me in Game 1 aren’t going to be there in Game 2. … We’ve got guys who can really score, can really play, and you’ve just got to trust them.”
The Jazz flourished on offense and defense. They shot 19 of 33 from 3-point range and 36 of 62 from the field overall during the first three quarters. Utah finished with 32 assists on 45 total baskets and tallied only six turnovers.
On the other end, the Jazz applied greater pressure on the perimeter and made Denver settle for tougher shots. Although Nikola Jokic had a typical big performance with 28 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, Jamal Murray was kept contained for large stretches — finishing with 14 points after scoring 36 in the opener.
“Everybody made the right plays, shared the ball, and we put ourselves in a good position because we were able to defend better,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said.
One bright spot for the Nuggets in the loss was the continued emergence of Michael Porter Jr. and the mismatches he creates on defense. Porter scored Denver’s first 12 points in the second quarter to help the Nuggets hang around before the Jazz finally pulled away for good just before halftime. The forward finished with 28 points.
Porter’s size, length and smooth outside shot are quickly becoming a headache for opponents when they put together defensive game plans.
“I’m 6-foot-10. I have a pretty high release,” Porter said. “I don’t really know what it looks like on TV, but it doesn’t feel like they have a hand in my face.”
Getting hands in more faces will need to top the list for Denver defensively going into Game 3. Utah is expected to get starting point guard Mike Conley back in the lineup after he missed two games for the birth of his son. Conley adds another dangerous scorer to the mix for a Jazz offense already making some sweet music.
“This is the playoffs,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We need to find a way to respond in Game 3.”
–Field Level Media