After being stunned in Game 1 of their first-round series, the Utah Jazz are in a vastly different place than they were a week ago.
Heading into Game 2 on May 26, the Jazz needed a win to even the series to avoid going down 0-2 against a Memphis Grizzlies team that had to beat the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors in the new play-in tournament just to qualify for the playoffs.
Coming into Game 5 Wednesday, the Jazz can close out the series with a win over the Grizzlies on their own court in Salt Lake City.
Utah bounced back from the disastrous start — a game in which star Donovan Mitchell didn’t play because of an ankle injury — to win that game a week ago, 141-129, and then won two in Memphis to go up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
“There’s nothing to be frustrated about when you’re giving great fight against the best team in the NBA,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “They just have a response for everything. We’re giving everything we’ve got.”
Though 3-1 is indeed a commanding lead, the Jazz know quite well that it does not guarantee a series victory. Infamously, Utah squandered a similar advantage against the Denver Nuggets inside The Bubble last year and got eliminated after losing three straight.
“We have to go there and take care of home court back in Utah,” Mitchell said. “And I think that’s where our head is at.”
“We obviously remember that feeling that we had last season, and it’s not something we want to experience again,” point guard Mike Conley added. “We’ll hopefully be able to get our minds focused on business and not let this one slip away like we did last year.”
Mitchell has been the biggest difference for the Jazz since that opening loss. The two-time All-Star has averaged 28 points in three games since returning from the injury that had him sidelined for the final month of the season. He scored 30 points with eight assists in Monday night’s 120-113 road win.
In addition, the Jazz have averaged 127.3 points in the three games since Mitchell rejoined the team after only scoring 109 in the first game.
The Jazz’s depth has also been on display this series, including Rudy Gobert’s defensive presence down low, Conley’s savvy play-making skills, the offensive boost by Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson, Royce O’Neale’s all-around efficiency, and the myriad 3-point shooters throughout the roster.
“They’ve been playing with each other for a long time,” Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson said. “They have a little bit more playoff experience than us. So, they’ve got a good feel right now.”
As for Memphis, Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks have played consistently well throughout the series, but the Grizzlies need even bigger games from them — similar to the 57 points they combined to score in Game 1 — or more reliable contributions from the rest of their squad.
To the Grizzlies’ credit, they have clawed back from double-digit deficits to make things interesting in the fourth quarter, but they haven’t been able to match the Jazz’s proficiency down the stretch. Utah used a 12-0 run in the final minutes to secure Game 3 and propelled itself to another win Monday night with a 10-2 surge in crunch time.
“We’re right there, we’re literally going toe-to-toe against the best team in the NBA,” Jenkins said. “We’re doing a lot of things great compared to the previous game. We’ve got to find ways to do more.”
–Field Level Media