The Best Team Performance in the Bubble - NBA Playoffs
Updated: Aug 21
Last night, the first round of the NBA Playoffs entered into their second game of the series, as we begin to draw a clearer picture of how these first-round matchups are likely to finish. One of the four, back to back matches, to take place last night, was that of the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets. Denver came through to steal Game 1, in a gripping overtime encounter. However, this time around, Utah had other ideas, in what I believe to be the best team performance so far in this basketball ‘bubble’.
Some may have felt, that Utah was unlucky to come on the wrong side of Game 1, especially in the eyes of Donovan Mitchell, who dropped 57 points, the third-highest in NBA playoff history. But, with such a small turnaround, Utah knew they had no time to sulk and had to be back at their best, against a very well-organized Nuggets roster. The first quarter, drew many comparisons to last time out, with the score being separated by just one possession, setting up for another mouthwatering encounter.
The 2nd quarter began and the Jazz seemed to provide an edge on both sides of the court. On the defensive side, Utah was hustling all night, giving the Nuggets minimal time from beyond the arc and continually making them have tough looks at the basket, with the 24 seconds winding down. Royce O’Neale was very impressive with his nagging defense, but it was 2x DPOY Rudy Gobert, who was the nucleus to the Jazz defense on Wednesday night, finishing with 4 blocks, with one monster rejection, followed by an outburst of a passionate roar from the Frenchman, (just what you need in these crucial playoff games). The hard work on the defensive end was huge, with the Nuggets shooting 14 less 3pt attempts, from Game 1, whilst also shooting worse percentages in both FG and 3pt.
Another major element of the Jazz last night, that excited me, was the ability to move the ball and share the scoring. Going into Halftime, the Jazz had scored 61 points, and held a 13-point lead, with their go-to scorer, Donovan Mitchell, taking just six first-half field goal attempts. Gobert (19), Ingles (18), and Clarkson (26) provided outstanding offensive all evening and allowed Mitchell to play his fluid game and find the best offensive option, for each possession, rather than taking all the pressure on himself. Mitchell finished with 8 assists alongside O’Neale, who both moved the ball superbly on an almost perfect offensive evening from Utah.
The quality from Utah, with the ball in hand, was clear with all five starters, shooting 50% or better from the field, with the team as a whole shooting 45.5% from 3pt, off 44 attempts. And that 3pt percentage was helped due to an extremely hot run from the Jazz in the third, where at one stage, they went 8-10 from deep, in a period of play. Denver looked shellshocked and had no answers to the destruction lead by Mitchell, who reminded us of his freakish talent with a 21pt 3rd quarter.
The further the game went on, the more I believed this was the best all-round team performance I had seen in the bubble to date. Even though, there have been two, 1v8 seed shocks, the overall performance from Utah was second to none. Additionally, in those shocks, both the Lakers and Bucks had evenings to forget offensively. The Lakers shot 35/16/65, whilst the Bucks went 43/33/64, both leaving a huge gap open for their opponents to steal Game 1, in which the Trail Blazers and Magic, happily obliged. Denver shot 48/46/78, which is by no means a poor effort, and so this is a key reason why I put the Jazz performance over the other respective games.
What is clear, is that this series is going to be an exciting, tight battle throughout, which I have going to 7 games, with a potential Jazz upset occurring, especially when remembering the addition of Mike Conley, who will be available in Game 3, after missing the first 2 for personal reasons.
All in all, a truly magnificent performance by Utah. With the main question being, can they replicate this, over the whole series? Only time will tell.
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