2021 Playoffs: West First Round Jazz vs. Grizzlies
Utah Jazz prospects healthy with 3-1 lead, Donovan Mitchell leading way
Their Game 1 setback well behind them, the Jazz are poised to advance as injuries continue to take their toll around the NBA.
The Utah Jazz are in good shape in their first-round series with the Memphis Grizzlies after winning Game 4 on Monday 120-113. And if they were in great shape, this series would probably be over.
Utah’s lone loss in the series came, if you recall, when Donovan Mitchell was declared out of Game 1 at the last moment by the medical staff because of a lingering ankle sprain that Mitchell felt was healed. Mitchell was miraculously declared fit for duty just hours following that contest — funny how that happens when a No. 1 seed loses the opener — and since then he and the Jazz have ripped off three straight wins to take a 3-1 series lead.
The story here is this: Utah is going one direction with its health, and it seems the rest of the league is going the other.
Look around you: Anthony Davis isn’t expected to play Tuesday in a pivotal Game 5 of the tied Lakers-Suns series. Speaking of that series, Phoenix still needs a bit more evidence that Chris Paul is totally back from a bum shoulder. Joel Embiid couldn’t return to the Sixers second half of Monday’s eventual loss to the Wizards because of a sore knee. The Nuggets are trying to make do without Jamal Murray and the Celtics without Jaylen Brown.
And Luka Doncic, after being a pain in the neck to the Clippers in a pair of surprising Dallas victories, is now literally getting his just due in return in a series that’s now tied 2-2.
If this trend keeps up, the best team might not win this year’s championship … the healthiest team will.
With Mitchell in the fold the last three games, the Grizzlies-Jazz series has lacked much suspense. He’s their only star and their best creator off the dribble. Because of that, the Jazz can space the floor and lean on their strength, which is 3-point shooting. When those shots are falling — which has been the case since Mitchell’s return in Game 2 — the Jazz are tough to defend because their 3-point talent is so deep.
They went 17-for-34 on 3-pointers in Game 4, which is usually a recipe for playoff success. (In NBA history, teams that make 17 or more 3-pointers are 81-17 all-time.) Oddly enough, Mitchell was the worst of the bunch, missing five of seven. Yet he was in full attack mode all night, scoring 30 points mainly by drawing enough contact to shoot 12 of 13 from the free throw line.
The journey from here, assuming the Jazz handle their business this round, is to ensure that their constant deep shooting is a championship-worthy strategy. Removing the Golden State Warriors from this conversation — who had four All-Stars in Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry — has there been a 3-happy team to win a ring? The Houston Rockets failed all those years with James Harden and fueled all the doubts that swore coach Mike D’Antoni’s system would eventually be a big fail in the playoffs.
The Jazz are constructed much the same way, with Mitchell assuming the Harden role. In the playoffs, with teams engaged in a best-of-seven series, there’s more time for adjustments and scouting reports get smarter. When those shots don’t fall, there needs to be a Plan B. And unless we’ve missed something, the Jazz don’t have one.
But that’s an examination for the next round … assuming this one is headed toward a logical finish. The Grizzlies are the youngest team in these playoffs and they’re busy trying to learn what May basketball is all about. Meanwhile, the Jazz are rolling, launching long shots and winning, which makes them the envy of most playoff teams.
Therefore, maybe the hero of this Utah-Memphis series is … the Jazz team medical exec who suddenly had a change of opinion.
“The biggest thing is I felt like I should’ve played,” Mitchell said.
It’s OK. The No. 1 seed in the West suddenly has a healthy outlook, on this series, on the chances of going further, and more importantly on a roster that’s no longer dealing with doctors.
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