by Daniel Olsen | This has certainly been the best playoff series for a while for the Jazz. The last time they looked this good was likely the six-game series where they defeated the OKC Thunder in Donovan’s rookie year. Since then, bad matchups with Houston in back-to-back years did them in. Now, how can the Jazz take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series? They need to continue what’s working. For tonight’s game, I will give ten commandments the Utah Jazz should follow to succeed in game four.
1. Though shalt have no other stars before Donovan Mitchell: I’m not saying play Mitchell hero ball where he chucks it every time; 57 points was cool, but not a winning recipe. Start letting Mitchell take it up and run the point sometimes. Mike Conley is the point guard now. Mitchell is the point guard of the future. It’s time to get him ready. His passing is improving. He will always be a shoot-first guy, but early in the game he should get his teammates involved and make his job easier to go off in the fourth quarter
2. Thou shalt not make any grave turnovers: In the game one OT loss, the Jazz had 16 turnovers. In games two and three they have combined for just 19. If the Jazz can avoid stupid mistakes (yes, Mitchell, unfortunately that eight second violation was the stupidest in Game One) then they will be in great shape. If they can keep them to 12 or under and maintain a high-flying offense, then I think this is a key for them.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the two-time DPOY in vain: Rudy Gobert was elite on defense, especially in game 3. Jokic honestly looked intimidated as the tough defense created easy offense for Gobert as he had a double-double by halftime. The Nuggets will have a plan to try to exploit Gobert. They might try to give Jokic different outside looks to bring Rudy away from the paint. Jokic is an excellent passer, so he will try to find holes in the defense and make those plays. The Jazz need to fill up those holes for the entire 24-second shot clock and make the Nuggets hit low quality shots like contested long two-point shots.
4. Remember the Game 4 to keep it holy: Teams that go up 3-1 have only lost 11 times in NBA Playoff history. Right now the Jazz lead 2-1 and teams with that lead win the series 79.8% of the time. If they can get this third win, the probability of winning the series jumps up to 95.4%. If it gets tied 2-2 then it’s anybody’s game and this series might go seven games. If the Jazz win tonight then worst case they should pull it off in six games.
5. Honor the Division Champs that thy days may be long upon the earth: While the Nuggets undoubtedly are playing like frauds, leave the trash talk to the fans. We have no reason for the players or even organization to wake the sleeping giant. We saw what happened when the Nuggets Twitter account trolled the Jazz with a picture calling Jokic the best center in the NBA. Mitchell liked the tweet and definitely showed it to Gobert to fire him up. The Nuggets just win and, prior to game two on Wednesday, they had won four straight on the Jazz. While Utah has struck gold, it can’t be easy all the time. The Nuggets will make adjustments. The Jazz have to be ready for whatever comes their way and continue to play with the chip on their shoulder. The moment they get full of themselves, disaster happens. That appears to be what has happened to Denver. Look for them to be aggressive. They are down, but certainly not quitting.
6. Thou shalt kill the Nuggets on the glass: The Jazz need to come with a killer mentality. This is what makes them at their best. When the Jazz don’t defend they basically have to survive with hot shooting. When Gobert and Mitchell are killers, it’s contagious. So far, the Jazz have out-rebounded the Nuggets 154-146. It isn’t the most important stat because if both teams hit shots then there are obviously less opportunities for rebounds. It does help from a numbers standpoint because if the Jazz crash the offensive glass, they are especially giving themselves more shot opportunities than the Nuggets. More shots should equate to more points as long as the Jazz don’t go as cold as they did in the seeding games. Rebounding and hot-shooting Jazz playoff basketball is a recipe for success.
7. Thou shalt steal: This isn’t a candy store; the point of the game is to steal the basketball. The Jazz had their best game of the series in game three and 9 steals had a lot to do with it. They also can’t let Denver steal from them. In game two the Jazz had five steals but Denver had just one. In the only game the Jazz lost, Denver out-stole them 10-6. Again, it’s about creating more scoring opportunities. Steals are another way to do that.
8. Though shalt not commit fouls: We saw this in the regular season. When Gobert fouled out on August 8 in the double overtime seeding game versus Denver, he took the bait from Jokic way too often. Right now he’s playing focused. He need to be aggressive but he can’t bite even when Jokic makes five pump fakes in five seconds in the paint with five steps. Gobert especially needs to stay in the game. It could have cost the Jazz a playoff series two years ago when he was in foul trouble and the Thunder exploited him in game five. The Jazz almost let that series go seven games and foul trouble could very well have cost them a 3-1 lead. This time they need to remember that and make Gobert keep his hands straight up. Fouls are going to happen, but stupid fouls should not.
9. Thou shalt not bear false excuses: There are no excuses. Don’t blame anything on the refs or your teammates. Be like Mitchell and own up to your mistakes and resolve to be better each play. You are the Utah Jazz. The team is everything and the attitude is everything.
10. Thou shalt not covet the Nuggets: So what if the Nuggets won the Northwest Division title and the Jazz haven’t won it since 2017 before Donovan was a rookie? This is one of the deepest divisions in the league. We have four teams in our division in the playoffs, and this has been the case for three straight years. Don’t covet their center’s offensive ability. When Gobert is at his best, he is the best center in the league. Don’t covet their slew of guards. Donovan Mitchell is greater than the sum of their parts. Don’t covet the Nuggets when you are the Utah Jazz. Be proud of what you are and grind out this series to give the fans something to cheer for. Let’s win this series!
Tonight’s game will be broadcast at 7:00 PM MST on TNT.