Playoffs 2021

Utah Jazz can take a breather after putting away Memphis Grizzlies

Last year, first round? There was suspense. The Utah Jazz went the limit against the Denver Nuggets and Donovan Mitchell went next level, posting games of 57, 51, 44 and 30 points in that series. However, Utah lost in Game 7 by two points and everyone who watched and participated in that series needed a warm towel and a cold drink when it was over.

This time? The load on Mitchell and the shoulders of the Jazz was a heckuva lot lighter, and the chests on the victors are a lot puffier. Everyone who watched this series is asking: Did it really happen like that?

The Jazz are moving on to bigger things while the Grizzlies are moving back to Beale Street after Utah's 126-110 romp in Game 5. This first-round series went a quick five games, and probably could've been a sweep if Mitchell had made his first appearance in the opener and not Game 2.

So … What did we learn? That the Jazz, until there's evidence to the contrary, are worthy of being the No. 1 seed in the West. And that the Jazz haven't been truly tested yet in these playoffs - they're just getting started.

There's no telling about how deep Utah will travel this postseason, but the vital signs are positive. Yes, it's a small sample size. And yes, it came against the Grizzlies, who were too young to put up a fight. So take the following for what it's worth:

Mitchell meets the moment: He wasn't as deadly as he was in 2020 against the Nuggets, but that was an epic performance then, and those heroics weren't needed now. Still, Mitchell was forceful, take-charge and anxious to end this series. He capped off a terrific four games - all wins - with 30 mostly easy points in Game 5. In 141 minutes against Memphis, he totaled 136 points. He's the leader and primary option the Jazz need.

Memphis Mike Conley returns: Last season was a rough Utah introduction for Conley. This season, Utah's discovering the Memphis version of their All-Star guard. He has succeeded in reducing Mitchell's ball-handling chores and contributing toward Utah's 3-point shooting developing into the team strength. Conley is averaging 17.4 points and 8.6 assists and making 54.8% of his 3s in the playoffs, becoming the ideal compliment to Mitchell that Utah envisioned. However, he reaggravated a bothersome hamstring injury in Game 5 that bears watching.

Bojan Bogdanovic shows what they lacked: He was injured and didn't play in the bubble last season and the Jazz missed him badly, because of his dependable 3-point shot. He's hitting 43.3% of those shots in the playoffs and making teams pay for paying too much attention to Mitchell.

Rudy Gobert's defense and board work: As expected, Gobert was a factor in the first round, but only with his specialty. Until he went 10-for-13 shooting in Game 5, Gobert fumbled passes and failed to finish shots on occasion. Still, he more than compensated for that by averaging almost 13.0 rebounds and 3.2 blocks. Poor Ja Morant tried desperately to dunk on Gobert and while you must give the Grizzlies' guard lots of props for being brave, he never succeeded.

Sixth (and Seventh) Man struggling: Jordan Clarkson, the newly-minted Sixth Man of the Year, still hasn't found his rhythm since the All-Star break. He struggled early in the first round, but finished strong. Utah could also use a bit more from Joe Ingles in the next round - the Sixth Man runner up went scoreless in 28 minutes Wednesday (ET) - but for the most part, the Jazz didn't have any glaring issues.

Almost every team seeded below Utah is facing issues. The Suns have a Chris Paul shoulder problem. A groin injury might prevent Anthony Davis from finishing the first round with the Lakers. The Clippers have dropped three straight at home against the Mavericks. In Dallas, Luka Doncic is dealing with neck pain. The Nuggets are (still) missing Jamal Murray. Portland couldn't even win a game when Damian Lillard scored 55.

Meanwhile, the Jazz are chilling, watching and taking notes. It's a great position to be in, away from the muck of the playoffs for now. In a sense, they were away from the playoffs last season, too, after the first round - far away, like, finished. But that was then. This is now.

Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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