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Utah Jazz play unselfishly with a convincing Game 2 win over the Nuggets to tie the series

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Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale (23) high-fives center Rudy Gobert (27) after a made basket against the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)


SALT LAKE CITY — No Bojan Bogdanovic. No Mike Conley. No problem.

The Utah Jazz beat the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 of their playoff series 124-105 Wednesday in a contest that was largely decided by midway through the third quarter, and they did it in convincing fashion despite the shortened depth chart.

The playoffs are always such a battle of strategy and about adjustments, adapting and reacting. Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz knew the Nuggets were not going to be complacent about their coverage of the All-Star guard in Game 2. Though the Nuggets came away with the Game 1 win, Mitchell had scored 57 points, and Nuggets coach Mike Malone talked about being more aggressive defensively with Mitchell and limiting his drives.

To that end, the Nuggets threw more bodies at Mitchell on Wednesday, tried to keep him to his left, get the ball out of his hands and take away the pick-and-roll action, and it worked early, as he scored just six points in the first half.

“They did a great job. Did a great job of trying to make it tough on me and you felt it early,” Mitchell said of the Nuggets first half defense. “It’s all about adapting and understanding that the seams and lanes that were there in Game 1 aren’t going to be there in Game 2.”

The Nuggets may have done a good job of keeping Mitchell from scoring in the first half, but he was ready for that.

The thing about living in the bubble, and especially for teams that are staying in the same hotel like the Jazz and Nuggets, is that they can’t get away from the opposition.

Not long after Game 1 Denver guard Jamal Murray ran into Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell and posted a video of it on Instagram.

“It’s crazy out here being in the bubble,” Murray said just before flipping the camera from showing himself to showing Mitchell sitting at a table. “I gotta see this dude right after the game. He just dropped 57!”

Murray and Mitchell are friendly. Murray laughed, Mitchell smiled. It was an honest moment from Murray and wasn’t the first time that day he’d complimented what Mitchell had done, but the truth of the situation was that Mitchell dropped 57 points and lost.

Mitchell had a historic playoff performance only to be outplayed by Murray in the final moments and drop to 0-1 in the first-round series. It’s easy to smile and laugh about someone scoring 57 when you are the one with the ‘W’ on the books. For the loser, it can be salt in the wound.

Rather than try to individually shake the Nuggets off with another historic scoring performance, Mitchell, with the wound of the Game 1 loss still open, made them pay for the attention they were giving him by becoming a facilitator.

The more he was able to draw the defense to one side of the court, it left guys on the other side open. If Mitchell had to give up the ball because he had two guys guarding him, that meant that Joe Ingles likely had an opening.

“We’ve got guys who can really score and really make plays and you just have to trust it,” Mitchell said.

That pass-first action and willingness to give up the ball and move was contagious and led to even better ball movement from every Jazz player, and the Nuggets defense couldn’t keep up. Though Mitchell only had the six first-half points, he, Ingles, and Royce O’Neale combined for 15 assists in the first half alone.

And of course, with that kind of classic blender offense rolling along, the shots started to fall.

“Donovan was really patient early and made the right play,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “Everybody made the right play and shared the ball and put us in good position.”

On the defensive end, Snyder made a couple of small tweaks, including putting O’Neale on Murray and taking Ingles off him. O’Neale was able to keep up with Murray and didn’t allow him to find any sort of consistency on the offensive end.

While the move worked for the Jazz, Malone noted that the reason the Nuggets lost, and by such a wide margin, was not due to one defensive adjustment.

“If you want to attribute them scoring 124 points, and limiting us to 105, to that, you can, but I don’t buy that,” he said.

Instead, the Nuggets’ defense, was subpar at best, as has been the case throughout their time in the NBA’s Orlando bubble. Malone said that playing hard isn’t enough. He thought his guys played hard, but they didn’t follow the game plan, didn’t play smart and left too many things open.

In the third quarter, as if to remind the Nuggets that he had just dropped 57 on them two days before, Mitchell scored 21 of his game-high 30 points, forcing the game out of reach for the Nuggets.

Jazz-Nuggets playoff schedule

(3) Denver Nuggets

vs. (6) Utah Jazz

Game 1

Nuggets 135, Jazz 125 (OT)
Game 2

Jazz 124, Nuggets 105
Game 3

Jazz 124, Nuggets 87
Game 4

Jazz 129, Nuggets 127
Game 5

Nuggets 117, Jazz 107
Game 6

Nuggets 119, Jazz 107
Game 7

Nuggets 80, Jazz 78, Nuggets win series 4-3

While his stat line in Game 2 was not as flashy, Mitchell’s unselfishness initiated a win by committee in which four players scored in double figures (Mitchell, Ingles, Rudy Gobert, Jordan Clarkson), Royce O’Neale was on triple-double watch, finishing with nine points, eight assists and seven rebounds and the Jazz closed out the game with 32 of their 45 shots assisted.

As was the case between Games 1 and 2, both teams will be making adjustments and preparing for whatever battle strategy the opposition is going to come out with in Game 3 on Friday. Between now and then, it’s very likely they run into each other in the bubble, and if they do, Mitchell will be the one smiling.