LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Donovan Mitchell added his name to a prestigious list that includes Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Wilt Chamberlain.
The four are the only NBA players to notch two 50 or more point games in a single postseason.
And Mitchell looks to just be getting started.
Mitchell scored 18 of his 51 points in the fourth quarter and the Utah Jazz withstood a 50-point night from Jamal Murray to beat the Denver Nuggets 129-127 on Sunday and take a 3-1 lead in the playoff series.
Mitchell was 15 of 27 from the floor and went 17 of 18 from the free throw line. The 23-year-old Mitchell scored 57 points in Game 1. He’s averaging 39.5 points in the series.
Since the return to action, he’s looked like a different player. For that, he credits a chip on his shoulder.
“I love hearing negative things about me,” Mitchell said. “The knock on me has been inefficient, not a team player. I pride myself on being a team player. … People are going to say what they say. You can’t please everybody. For me, it’s how can I help my team win? Tonight it was scoring 50. Some nights it’s not.
“They want to talk. It’s just more fuel to the fire for me.”
He’s flattered to be joining such elite company. Iverson had a pair of games with 50 or more points in the 2001 playoffs, while Jordan accomplished the feat in ‘88 and ’93, and Chamberlain in ’60, according to the Jazz.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do to catch up to those guys,” Mitchell cracked.
The Jazz can close the series out in Game 5 on Tuesday. But the Nuggets aren’t ready to go home from the NBA bubble just yet, Murray said.
“There’s a lot of fight in us left,” he said. “One game at a time.”
Murray scored the most-ever points by a Denver player in a postseason game. His offensive explosion surpassed Spencer Haywood’s mark of 45 in an ABA playoff contest on April 19, 1970. Murray also had 11 rebounds.
“He put his fingerprints all over the game — scoring, rebounding, play-making,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
Nikola Jokic added 29 points, including three dunks. Jokic is not known for his dunking despite his 7-foot frame.
Leading 109-108 with 4:02 remaining, the Jazz were on the fast break when Paul Millsap fouled Mitchell. The officials ruled it a clear-path foul. Mitchell hit both free throws and after getting the ball out of bounds, Mike Conley hit a jumper to extend the lead to five.
From there, the Jazz simply held on. Rudy Gobert had a big game with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Conley added 26 points in his second game since returning to the NBA bubble after leaving for the birth of his son.
After two blowouts by the Jazz, this game got back to being close. But once again the Jazz took control with a third-quarter spurt. They outscored the Nuggets 33-24 in the quarter and moved to plus-50 in the third for the series.
The Nuggets tweaked their lineup after losing Games 2 and 3 by a combined 56 points. They started Monte Morris and Jerami Grant. To the bench went Michael Porter Jr. and defensive specialist Torrey Craig.
It was a tight first half that featured 12 lead changes and four ties. The biggest lead was eight by Denver.
“We were a much different team tonight than we were the last two games,” Malone said.
Nuggets: Gary Harris was upgraded to “doubtful” for Game 4, but didn’t play due to a hip injury. Will Barton III (right knee) also remains sidelined. … Millsap had 16 points.
Jazz: Reserve Jordan Clarkson scored 24 points. … The Jazz shot 57.5% from the floor.
Mitchell had more free throws (18) than Denver had as a team (13). Malone avoided the free throw disparity.
“I’m not giving the league any of my money,” Malone said.
The Nuggets went to a different part of the NBA bubble for a team dinner Saturday night. It was a chance for a change of scenery.
“Just nice to get out of our hotel, go somewhere else, get some different food, a different environment and be together. Break bread,” Malone explained.
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