SALT LAKE CITY — On Wednesday afternoon, Mike Conley watched the Utah Jazz play Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets while quarantined in a hotel room just 3 miles from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex where the game took place.

“I’m not a guy that gets nervous during games, but I was about as nervous as you can get,” he said Friday of watching the game on TV. “I’m like a super fan and I get anxious and I start to sweat. I’m sitting there and yelling at the guys on the screen and texting the guys during the game even though I know they’re not going to respond.”

(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

After leaving the NBA bubble on Sunday and flying home to Columbus, Ohio, to be with his wife for the birth of their third son, then returning to the bubble on Monday and being isolated in a hotel room for four days, Conley couldn’t wait to get back out on the basketball court with his teammates.

The Nuggets were already having a hard time contending with the Utah Jazz’s multiple dynamic playmakers, and then, on Friday, Conley was released from quarantine and wasted absolutely no time showing Denver that its problems had only just begun.

Conley led the Jazz in a complete rout of the Nuggets in Game 3. In 24 minutes and 33 seconds on the court, he dropped a game-high 27 points, including going 7 of 8 from 3-point range — a playoff career high in 3-pointers made — to go with four assists in a 124-87 blowout, giving the Jazz a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Leading up to the playoffs, a major concern that many had about the Jazz-Nuggets matchup was the extreme size advantage Denver possessed. Though height and length are important, it turns out that speed is more impactful.

The Nuggets don’t seem to have an answer for the Jazz’s offense, which is predicated on quick action and ball movement. With a legion of Utah players who can both facilitate and shoot, the Nuggets aren’t equipped with the lateral speed to recover before the Jazz have created an open look, a mismatch or an empty seam in which to score.

“As much as anything, our guys are committed to moving the ball,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said after Friday’s game. “You’re moving it in different ways. Sometimes it’s after penetration, sometimes it’s early in a possession, sometimes it’s in a play. Guys are trusting each other, and when that happens you run good offense.”

The Nuggets tried in vain to clamp down on some of the hot hands, but doubling any one Jazz player left the door wide open for another to take control. Donovan Mitchell finished with 20 points, Jordan Clarkson added 11, Georges Niang had 16 and Rudy Gobert, surrounded by playmakers who were demanding double-teams, racked up 24 points and 14 rebounds.

Though Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale only combined for five points in Game 3, they dished out a total of 12 assists.

In his sweaty and anxious viewing of Games 1 and 2, Conley saw how much the Jazz’s speed, effort and efficient passing was hurting the Nuggets and knew he was going to have to rise to a certain level of play as soon as he rejoined his team, despite being out for four days.

“The effort that they were playing with were all things I knew when I came back I had to continue to do in order to be on that court and make our team that much better,” he said. “I just wanted to go out there and lay it all on the line for the guys, and they did it the same way and we got another win.”

Entering the playoffs, the Jazz were far from favored. Without Bojan Bogdanovic, many wondered how they would make up for his offensive production, for the size he offers and for his ability to produce in high-pressure situations. Without Conley in the first two games, even more questions arose about the Jazz just lacking the firepower to combat the Nuggets and their usually lethal two-man game between Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic.

Though the Jazz lost in Game 1, Mitchell’s 57 points made it clear that the Jazz would find a way to score. In Game 2, the Jazz proved that size was not going to keep them from generating opportunities. And in Game 3, the Jazz added Conley to their already large arsenal and combined speedy defense with ruthless offense to stun the Nuggets for a second consecutive game. 

The proverbial ball is now in the Nuggets’ court. If they can’t find a way to counter the Jazz’s slew of weapons by Sunday night, they could be facing an elimination game by Tuesday.

Said Gobert Friday: “I think we have a great group and a great opportunity.”