The Jazz thought they were in control of their game. Their season was on the line. And they were playing a terrible Memphis team. But a good team can lose a game, and a bad team can win a game. This was a bad team. So, when the Grizzlies hit a few long jumpers in the final minutes, it seemed like a forgone conclusion that the Jazz had to lose. And then, late in the game, they did. But then, a funny thing happened. The Jazz closed out the game, fought back from a 3-1 deficit, and won.
The Jazz have always had close playoff games, but the Memphis Grizzlies were the first team to give the Jazz a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference first round. Utah took that as a wake-up call and the Jazz knocked off the Grizzlies in six games. The Jazz lost the decisive seventh game but then won the deciding game one in overtime.
Donovan Mitchell believes his Utah Jazz team learned from last season’s playoff mistakes and will use last season’s 3-1 loss to the Denver Nuggets as motivation to take on the Memphis Grizzlies this time around. After going a solid 3-1 in the first round for the second consecutive season with a 120-111 win in Game 4 Monday night in Memphis, Mitchell admitted he thought his team had grown from last season. We’ve seen it before, said Mitchell, who scored 30 points. We’ve already been there. It’s just the moment we played – we played to be the team we were because of that moment, I would say. Because it has been the basis for many moments this season. And we’re back here, and we’re going to do what we do and not bring up the past. It’s definitely fuel, though. Part of Mitchell’s confidence comes from the fact that his team, since returning from an ankle injury in Game 2, has faced every challenge from the Memphis squad. After talking about how the Grizzlies always come back in games no matter how close they are, Mitchell noted that last season’s loss has given the Jazz more focus this season and in this series. That’s what led to the loss, we stopped doing the little things, Mitchell said. Because we felt it: Oh, that’s okay, they have to win three in a row. I think this experience will allow us to say: Okay, this is what we have to do. Another kick, another sprint to the corner. Take the defense, accept the blame, whatever it is. The fact that it’s so fresh, the fact that it’s last year, I think that definitely helps us understand that just because we go home and win two games in a row, doesn’t mean a fifth game is a guarantee. This team will fight and be competitive. I think the biggest thing is our mental toughness and the fact that we keep playing like we’re going to give up 10 points. Jazz coach Quin Snyder echoed those sentiments and believed his team will be ready for the challenge in this playoff game that comes after the organization’s historic bubble. I’m sure it’s something the guys have discussed a few times, Snyder said. I think we see it more broadly, rather than pointing to a specific series or era. That call situation was really unique, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we were in a position where we want to be again. But it’s a different year, and it’s a different team. Bojan [Bogdanovic] is back with us. Derrick [Favors] is here this year. There are certain things in our group right now – and I think it’s maturity. We’ve been through a lot and I think when something like this happens, we all help each other, whether it’s us personally or the team. And I think that’s a growth process that’s happening in our team. Veteran guard Mike Conley, who couldn’t find his feet in his first year with the Jazz last season, knows his new team hasn’t forgotten the bitter taste after losing such a big lead against the Nuggets. Of course, we remember the feeling we had last season, Conley said. And that’s something we don’t want to go through again. I think this team is different. I think the circumstances are a little different. Bojan is back, and I think I will be happy with the situation I am in for another year. I think we have a different team, a different mentality, and I hope we can stay focused and not lose this game like last year. For Mitchell, the increasing growth this season was evident in the way the Jazz pulled off a tough win on Monday. We didn’t go into the locker room with words: We’ve got them, Mitchell said. The work is not yet finished. It’s not ready yet. And I think that’s the point. I know it’s a message. 1 to 17, coach, everyone. We have to go out and look at Utah Field, and I think we can count on that. It was a good win. There are things we could have done much better. We’ll take care of that, and then we’ll go home and take care of business. After all the ups and downs the Jazz have been through before, during and after the bubble, Snyder spoke with the conviction of someone who believes this time will be different in a similar postseason situation. Last year is last year, Snyder said. Just like a regular season is a regular season. I think there are things you take away from the past that you learn from. There is an experience for our group that has been going on for a long time. This team was tested at all levels last May and they handled those moments and challenges the right way: you learn from them and you get better.