The Utah Jazz have put the pressure on the Denver Nuggets following a blowout Game 3 victory.
Leading by as much as 39 points late in the fourth quarter, the Jazz handled the higher-seeded Nuggets throughout the entire game.
For more on this statement win from the No. 6 seed, we have you covered with takeaways below.
Mike Conley Jr.'s return
The Jazz had been without Conley through the first two games of the postseason after leaving the bubble for the birth of his son.
Making his return in Game 3, the veteran guard wasted no time making his impact felt for Utah. Conley came out swinging, going for 14 points on a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the arc in the first half to get the Jazz out to a sizable 17-point lead.
CONLEY HRS pic.twitter.com/BZmDAMrZ1W- utahjazz (@utahjazz) August 21, 2020
That momentum carried into the second half, burying his first two 3-point attempts in the third quarter to extend his hot start to 6-for-6 from long range. Conley would finish the contest with a game-high 27 points on a blistering 7-for-8 (87.5%) shooting from 3-point land. He added four assists and one steal to his totals as well.
Conley has had an up-and-down first season in Utah, but adding a player with his playoff experience could be exactly what the Jazz need to pull off the first round upset.
- Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)
Rudy Gobert takes over with career game
Gobert established his dominance early in this one.
The All-Star centre completely owned the first half, nearly eclipsing his playoff career-high in scoring (22 points) by halftime. Gobert had a commanding double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds through two quarters, making his presence felt in the paint.
straight up monster pic.twitter.com/C9LwZf62ff- utahjazz (@utahjazz) August 21, 2020
That didn't stop at the halftime break either as the French centre dictated the entire game on both ends of the floor.
Gobert would go on to surpass his playoff career-high in scoring with 24 points to go with 14 rebounds. He boasted a +/- of plus-21, a direct opposite of his matchup Nikola Jokic, who was minus-21.
Jokic's final stat line of 15 points, six assists and five rebounds was uninspiring, but his lack of ability to even somewhat contain Gobert left the Nuggets behind the 8-ball. He'll have to bring much more intensity on the glass and defensive end if the Nuggets are going to be able to advance past the first round.
No Will Barton is bad news for the Nuggets
According to Mike Singer of The Denver Post, Barton has left the bubble to "rehab his right knee offsite."
The Nuggets have been without Barton for the entire season restart, but they're really starting to miss him. He was Denver's third-leading scorer on the season with 15.1 points per game. He's one of their more reliable 3-point shooters and gives Denver another playmaker alongside Jamal Murray and Jokic, someone who can create high percentage looks for himself out of the pick-and-roll.
Without Barton, it puts a lot of pressure on Murray and Jokic, as well as rookie Michael Porter Jr., to carry the offence. When they're each playing well - as was the case in Game 1 - Barton's absence isn't as obvious. But when two of them aren't playing well - as was the case in Game 3 - their offence falls apart, giving the Nuggets very little margin for error.
In 15 minutes of play, Porter finished Game 3 with seven points on 3-for-6 shooting. In his 26 minutes, Murray scored 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting. The Nuggets can't afford those types of performances out of them to have a chance in this series.
- Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)
Will history repeat itself for Jamal Murray?
And really, this is more about Murray than it is Porter, who is a 22-year-old rookie in his first playoffs.
Murray played one of the best - if not the best - game of his life in Game 1 of this series. It wasn't just that he led the Nuggets with 36 points and nine assists, it's that he showed up when they needed him the most, hitting big shot after big shot in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime.
The @nuggets take a 1-0 series lead behind Jamal Murray's (@BeMore27) #NBAPlayoffs career-high 36 PTS, 9 AST in the OT win! #WholeNewGame #MileHighBasketball- NBA (@NBA) August 17, 2020
Game 2: Wed. (8/19), 4pm/et - TNT pic.twitter.com/W4GsPQ6F9A
It's been a struggle for Murray since. In Game 2, he finished with 14 points and four assists on 6-for-13 shooting from the field. In Game 3, 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting.
The good news for the Nuggets: Murray wasn't great in the first three games of Denver's first-round series last season either, posting 15.7 points on 39.1 percent shooting from the field. It was Game 4 onwards that he came alive, averaging 21.5 points on 49.3 percent shooting over the final four games to beat the San Antonio Spurs in seven.
In the same 2-1 hole that they were in last season, the Nuggets can only hope that history will repeat itself.
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