Donovan Mitchell is confident that his Utah Jazz have learned from their past playoff mistakes and will use last season’s 3-1 meltdown at the hands of the Denver Nuggets as “fuel” to close out the Memphis Grizzlies this time around.
After taking a commanding 3-1 series lead for the second year in a row in the first round — thanks to a 120-113 Game 4 win in Memphis on Monday night — Mitchell acknowledged that he believes his team has grown from last postseason’s bubble breakdown.
“We’ve seen this before,” Mitchell said after scoring 30 points. “We’ve been here before. This is the exact moment we’ve played — we’ve played up to being this team that we’ve been, because of that moment, I would say. Because that fueled a lot of this season. And we’re here again, and we’re going to go out there and just do what we do and not really relish in the past. Although, it definitely is fuel.”
Part of the reason Mitchell sounds so confident is that since he returned in Game 2 from an ankle injury, his team has answered every challenge the tough Memphis group has thrown at it. After outlining how the Grizzlies have repeatedly come back in games no matter how far they’ve gotten down, Mitchell noted that last postseason’s ouster gave the Jazz a greater sense of focus throughout this campaign and in this series.
“That’s what really lost that in the bubble was we stopped executing on the little things,” Mitchell said. “Because we felt like, ‘Oh, it’s OK, they got to win three more times in a row.’ I think having that [experience] will allow us to kind of come in and be like, ‘All right, this is what we got to do.’ One more hit, one more sprint to the corner. Getting back on defense, taking a foul, whatever it may be.
“Having that be so fresh, having it be last year, I think that definitely helps us understanding that Game 5 isn’t a guarantee just because we’re going home and we’ve won two in a row. This team is going to fight and compete. I think the biggest thing is our mental fortitude and continuing to go out there and play like we’re down 10.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder echoed those sentiments, believing his group will be ready for the challenge that comes in a closeout game after the organization’s bubble history.
“I’m sure it’s something that the guys have discussed at various times,” Snyder said. “I think we’re looking at it more generally, as opposed to pointing to a specific series or a specific time. That situation in the bubble was a really unique one, and that’s certainly not to discount the fact that we were in a position that we want to be in again. But this is a different year, and this is a different team.
“We’ve got Bojan [Bogdanovic] back. Derrick [Favors] is here this year. There’s some things about our group right now — and I think there’s a maturity. We’ve been through a lot, and I think when that happens, all of us, whether it’s personally or certainly the team, you pull each other along. And I think that’s the growth process that’s taken place with our team.”
Veteran guard Mike Conley, who struggled to find his rhythm at times last season in his first year with the Jazz, knows that his new team hasn’t forgotten the sour taste it had after blowing such a big lead versus the Nuggets.
“We obviously remember that feeling that we had last season,” Conley said. “And it’s not something we want to experience again. I think this team is different. I think the circumstances are a little bit different. Bojan’s back, and I think another year for me to be kind of comfortable in the situation I’m in.
“I think we got a different team, different mindset, and hopefully be able to get our minds focused on business and not let this one slip away like we did last year.”
For Mitchell, the incremental growth of the season came in how the Jazz celebrated Monday’s hard-fought victory.
“We didn’t come in the locker room like, ‘We got ’em,'” Mitchell said. “The job’s not done. It’s not finished. And I think that’s the message. I know that’s the message. One to 17, coaches, everybody. We have to go there and take care of home court back in Utah, and I think that’s where our head is at. This was a good win. There’s things we could have done much better. We’ll go ahead and execute that and take care of business at home.”
After all the ups and downs the Jazz have endured before, during and after the bubble, Snyder spoke with the conviction of a man who believes there will be a different outcome this time around in a similar postseason situation.
“Last year is last year,” Snyder said. “Just like the regular season is the regular season. I think there’s things that you take from the past that you learn from. There’s experience for our group that’s been going on for a while. This was a team that was questioned on every level last May, and those types of moments and that type of adversity, they’ve handled properly; you learn from it, and you’re better.”