ORLANDO – The Utah Jazz didn’t let the heartbreak of their overtime loss to Denver in Game 1 affect them at all, blowing the Nuggets out in Game 2 Wednesday, 124-105.
Donovan Mitchell scored 21 of his 30 points in a big third quarter and the Utah Jazz evened its first-round playoff series at a game apiece.
Mitchell was 10 of 14 from the floor, including 6 of 7 from three-point range. He also dished out eight assists and helped the Jazz break open the game in the third quarter. The Jazz led by 27 at the end of the third and by as many as 31 in the fourth.
“I prided myself over quarantine to become more of a playmaker, finding ways to continue to evolve,” Mitchell said. “It may not always be scoring. Today, I just really trusted my teammates and they did a hell of a job. Rudy, Joe, JC, Royce, everybody, not just hitting shots but to be ready to make plays, and I think that’s what made it easy for me.”
Mitchell’s performance was on the heels of scoring a Jazz playoff-record 57 points in a 135-125 overtime loss in Game 1. Mitchell was the focus of Denver’s defense, which helped open up other avenues for teammates.
Jordan Clarkson scored a personal playoff-best 26 points on a day the Jazz shot 51.7% from the floor. They also had 32 assists and hit 20 3-pointers.
“We knew Game 1 was going to be a tough one, and we came out and made adjustments for Game 2,” said Clarkson, who scored 16 points in the first half. “That’s what it’s all about. My mindset coming in was to get in the paint, try to make my teammates better as well as everybody else. Coach told us to attack the rim. We’re playing for each other and playing together, it works well for us.”
”We stayed locked in and communicated. That’s what we need the whole series,” Mitchell said. ”We need the same energy and intensity.”
Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. had 28 points, and Nikola Jokic added 28 points and 11 rebounds. Jamal Murray, who scored 36 points in Game 1, was held to 14 points on 6 of 13 from the field.
It was a rare blowout in what’s been a tight showdown between the two teams all season. Despite Denver winning the previous four games, counting the regular season, the total margin was only 21 points.
Rudy Gobert added 19 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocked shots, as the Jazz defense held the high-powered Nuggets to 45.7 percent shooting from the field.
“The physicality was there, and the communication was there,” Gobert said. “Against this team, the number one most important thing is to get those rebounds, and I think we did a great job. They got a few offensive rebounds in the fourth, but throughout the game, we did a great job.”
”All of our games are usually close games and this one got away from us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. ”We have to learn from it. We have to look it. We can’t be afraid to look into the mirror and see why we lost. But once we do that let’s turn the page.”
Denver forward Torrey Craig was assigned to cover Mitchell and early on it worked. But Mitchell took over in the third quarter, going 5 of 5 from 3-point range and hitting all four of his free throws.
Utah went on a 22-6 run to end the first half. It was punctuated by Gobert’s put-back dunk at the buzzer.
Jokic and the Nuggets couldn’t get anything going late in the second quarter, with one trip down the floor illustrating their struggles. They had about five shots – several in close by Jokic – but no points to show for it.
Utah point guard Mike Conley could back for the next game. He returned to the NBA bubble Monday night after leaving for the birth of his son and is going through a four-day quarantine.
”It only adds positives having a player like Mike Conley, and a leader like Mike Conley, back with us,” said center Rudy Gobert, who had 19 points.
“It’s a series, and I don’t think you get too high or too low,” head coach Quin Snyder said. “They’ve been beating us all season, so the fact that we were able to get one, it’s good. We tied the series up, the key word is series, so we’ve got to continue to do it again.”
Game 3 is set for Friday at 2:00 p.m. mountain time.