This time, a 3-1 lead didn’t get away from the Utah Jazz.
And now comes the next challenge: The second round of the NBA playoffs.
The NBA’s No. 1 overall seed is headed to the Western Conference semifinals after Donovan Mitchell scored 30 points and the Jazz beat the Memphis Grizzlies 126-110 on Wednesday nightto advance. Utah won four consecutive contests after dropping Game 1, and now awaits the winner of the series between Dallas and the Los Angeles Clippers.
It felt like forever to Mitchell, who hasn’t been to the second round since his rookie season — the 2018 playoffs.
”For me, personally, it’s just something that I wanted to accomplish,” Mitchell said. ”It’s not the end goal, but it’s definitely something to appreciate along the way. We did what we’re supposed to do, but at the end of the day you’ve got to appreciate where you’re at, too, because it can get lost in the shuffle of everything.
”It’s a moment that I’ll enjoy for the night, and then get ready to play whoever it is next round.”
The Jazz probably wouldn’t mind if that Mavericks-Clippers series – Dallas prevailed in Los Angeles on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 lead in that matchup, one where the road team has won every game – goes the distance, if for no other reason that it’ll give starting point guard Mike Conley more days off. Conley’s right hamstring was the lone major issue for the Jazz on Wednesday night, forcing him to leave the game in the first half with what the team called soreness.
Concern is merited. Conley has been sidelined twice already this season by issues involving the same hamstring.
”He’ll get evaluated after the game and over the course of the next 24 hours,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. ”We’ll be able to tell you more then.”
The Jazz made quick work of the Grizzlies by doing what they did all season – making 3’s. Utah set a team record, in a season 10 games shorter than the norm no less, by making 1,205 3-pointers this season, the third-most by any team in NBA history.
Same thing in the playoffs. Utah made 84 3-pointers in the five games against the Grizzlies, the most by any team in these playoffs so far. And in the last four games, the Jazz made at least 17 in each one – the first team in NBA playoff history to make that at least that many in four straight contests.
”The job’s not done,” Mitchell said. ”We’ve got to continue and go ahead and do the same thing in the next round.”
They played their game, never deviating, even after facing the early 1-0 deficit.
”I think it shows that last year is last year and this year is this year,” Snyder said.
If nothing else, these playoffs are already better than last season’s playoffs were for Utah.
The Jazz took a 3-1 lead over Denver in Round 1 at the restart bubble set up at Walt Disney World last summer, then dropped the last three games of that series – first wasting a 15-point second-half lead in the potential Game 5 clincher and ultimately falling 80-78 in Game 7, a game in which offense was simply nowhere to be had and a fourth-quarter lead got away from Utah.
Lessons were learned.
”We took care of business,” Mitchell said.
Some teams would have looked to make big changes after such a collapse. The Jazz did anything but. They locked up Mitchell with a max extension that kicks in this coming season, then got Rudy Gobert to sign a five-year extension as well. Jordan Clarkson got a four-year deal, which paid off with him winning the NBA’s sixth man of the year award this season – and the closest person to him in the voting was his Jazz teammate Joe Ingles.
They were the best in the West all season, spending each of the last 104 days of the regular season atop the conference; technically, they were tied for first on three of those days, but no team finished the day with a better record than the Jazz since Feb. 1.
The question now surrounds whether they can live up to the billing and make the West finals for the first time since 2007.
That’s the next goal, and it’s four wins away.
”We were able to stay locked in and everybody stepped up and did what they’re supposed to do,” Mitchell said. ”That’s what championship teams do and that’s what our goal is – win a championship.”
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports