The Utah Jazz edged past the Denver Nuggets with a 129-127 win on Sunday to gain a lead of 3-1 in their first-round playoff series in the Western Conference. Donovan Mitchell lead with 51 points and seven assists.
Joining the ranks of veteran NBA stars, Mitchell became only the third player after Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson to notch 50 points in the same playoff series twice. Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson scored 26 and 24 points respectively.
Nuggets' Strong Opening Offense
Rudy Gobert chipped in 17 points and 11 rebounds. Jamal Murray exploded for 50 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists to lead Denver. Nikola Jokic added 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the loss. The Nuggets started strong on offense and carried that momentum through the first quarter. Denver shot 14 of 25 (56 percent) from the field and totaled 36 points in the quarter.
Monte Morris and Jerami Grant moved into Denver's starting lineup and contributed to that early spark. A 3-pointer from Grant gave the Nuggets their biggest first-quarter lead at 22-16 with 4:56 to play in the period. Mitchell kept Utah in it during the first quarter, however, scoring 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting. He hit a jumper and assisted on two other baskets to help put the Jazz ahead 25-24.
Scrambling Past the Finish Line
Denver used an 11-2 run to take a 43-35 lead — its largest of the first half. Murray capped off the run with a three-point play. The Jazz stayed within striking distance, though, thanks to big baskets from Clarkson and Mitchell, and cut the deficit to 65-64 on a pair of free throws from Mitchell just before halftime.
Mitchell tallied 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the half. The Jazz used another third-quarter surge to climb ahead of Denver. Conley keyed a 12-4 run with a pair of 3-pointers that gave Utah a 91-83 lead. He hit another 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to boost Utah's lead to 102-91 early in the fourth.
Denver heated up from the perimeter and cut the deficit to 109-108 on back-to-back 3-pointers from Murray. The Nuggets could not overtake the Jazz for a lead, however. Mitchell drained a 3-pointer and hit five free throws in the final minute to help Utah secure the victory and make Game 5 on Tuesday a win-or-go-home game for Denver.
(With inputs from agencies)