LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Donovan Mitchell is playing at an elite level, and the Utah Jazz are on the verge of moving on to the Western Conference Semifinals.
Mitchell scored 18 of his 51 points in the fourth quarter and the Jazz withstood a 50-point night from Jamal Murray to beat the Denver Nuggets 129-127 on Sunday and take a 3-1 lead in the playoff series.
Mitchell was 15 of 27 from the floor and went 17 of 18 from the free throw line. He is averaging 39.5 points in the series, and is just the third player in NBA history, along with Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson, to score 50 points multiple times in a playoff series.
“You can say a lot about what he did tonight,” said head coach Quin Snyder. “He was terrific, and he’s a terrific player. I think the way he answered everything that was going on early and was able to pick his spots and hit his shots. He’s playing with a level of confidence that’s very high.”
The Jazz can close out the series in Game 5 on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
Mike Conley poured in 26 points, while Jordan Clarkson added 24 off the bench for the Jazz. Rudy Gobert had a big game with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
The Jazz shot 57.5 percent from the field, and 48.3 percent from 3-point range.
Utah had a huge advantage at the free throw line, making 31 of 36 compared to 12 of 13 for the Nuggets.
Since the return to action, Mitchell has looked like a different player. For that, he credits a chip on his shoulder.
“I love hearing negative things about me,” Mitchell said. “The knock on me has been inefficient, not a team player. I pride myself on being a team player. People are going to say what they say. You can’t please everybody. For me, it’s how can I help my team win? Tonight it was scoring 50. Some nights it’s not. They want to talk. It’s just more fuel to the fire for me.”
He’s flattered to be joining such elite company. Iverson had a pair of games with 50 or more points in the 2001 playoffs, while Jordan accomplished the feat in 1988 and 1993.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do to catch up to those guys,” Mitchell cracked.
The Jazz can win the series on Tuesday, but the Nuggets aren’t ready to go home from the NBA bubble just yet, Murray said.
“There’s a lot of fight in us left,” he said. “One game at a time.”
Murray scored the most-ever points by a Denver player in a postseason game. His offensive explosion surpassed Spencer Haywood’s mark of 45 in an ABA playoff contest on April 19, 1970. Murray also had 11 rebounds.
Nikola Jokic added 29 points, including three dunks. Jokic is not known for his dunking despite his 7-foot frame.
Leading 109-108 with 4:02 remaining, the Jazz were on the fast break when Paul Millsap fouled Mitchell. The officials ruled it a clear-path foul. Mitchell hit both free throws and after getting the ball out of bounds, Mike Conley hit a jumper to extend the lead to five.
After two blowouts by the Jazz, this game got back to being close. But once again the Jazz took control with a third-quarter spurt. They outscored the Nuggets 33-24 in the quarter and moved to plus-50 in the third for the series.
The Nuggets tweaked their lineup after losing Games 2 and 3 by a combined 56 points. They started Monte Morris and Jerami Grant. To the bench went Michael Porter Jr. and defensive specialist Torrey Craig.
It was a tight first half that featured 12 lead changes and four ties. The biggest lead was eight by Denver.
“We just need to continue to be ourselves,” Conley said. “Just continue to fight. We know it’s not over until it is, so we’ve just got to continue to play.”