Donovan Mitchell hadn’t forgotten the pain.
“It still hurts to this day,” he said recently.
Months after the Denver Nuggets rallied to knock the Utah Jazz out of the playoffs, Mitchell was looking forward to his team’s first chance to get even a modicum of revenge.
“We’ve been waiting for this since Sept. 1,” the All-Star guard said in the lead up to Sunday’s game.
The Jazz’s 109-105 win over the Nuggets on Sunday night in Denver won’t erase all of that pain, but it won’t hurt either.
“We’re developing into what we want to be. We’re getting there,” Mitchell said after his team’s fifth straight win. “This is a great, great road win.”
Mitchell overcame a slow start to finish with 18 points. Sixth man Jordan Clarkson led the team with 23 points off the bench. All-Star center Rudy Gobert had 15 points and 13 rebounds in the win.
“It feels good,” Gobert said of the win. “It says we’re hungry and we’re a better team than we were last year. We know these games matter at the end of the year.”
Denver center Nikola Jokic had 35 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists. Guard Jamaal Murray had 30 points.
But Jazz head coach Quin Snyder credited his team’s defensive resolve with limiting Murray to just six points after halftime.
“There’s a fine line between trying to defend differently and when you just need to do it better and do it harder and do it longer,” Snyder said. “I thought our guys really picked up their intensity. This was about our determination as much as anything.”
Still, Snyder didn’t want to make too much of the victory.
“This is one game,” the coach said. “I know there was a lot of thought about it given the playoffs last year. But this is one game.”
The Jazz are now 9-4 on the year.
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) January 18, 2021
Denver coach Michael Malone could point out a half dozen differences in this year’s Utah Jazz team.
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder could say the same of Denver.
So while the film from last year’s first-round playoff matchup may not have decided the outcome of this first regular season meeting between the Jazz and Nuggets, that doesn’t mean the showdown between Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray wasn’t worth re-watching.
“I grew up in a gym. I’ve been around the game my whole life,” Malone said. “I think that first-round matchup will go down as one of the better playoff series played. You had all the drama going on and within that you had two young, dynamic players that continued to put on an incredible show game after game.”
Jazz point guard Mike Conley agreed. Even as the games were being played, Conley said he was in awe of the showdown.
“It was a special moment,” Conley said. “As a player, a teammate, and an opponent of Jamal Murray, it was surreal to be part of that series. The way they were both playing, the shots they were making, and the moments they were making those shots in, it was an incredible performance.”
• Jazz wing Joe Ingles (right Achilles soreness) and forward Juwan Morgan (health and safety protocols) were held out of action Sunday night.
• The Nuggets were without forward Michael Porter Jr.
The Utah Jazz return home to take on the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. MT.