- Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.
The Utah Jazz exorcized some recent postseason demons with a 126-110 series-clinching win in Game 5 against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night in Salt Lake City.
The Jazz not only closed out a tough-minded young Grizzlies team led by Ja Morant, but they did so after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the first round of last season’s bubble playoffs.
“We obviously knew and felt the underlying pressure of being up 3-1 again,” Jazz guard Mike Conley said. “But at the same time, we also know this team is different. This team has grown a lot since then. We learned a lot from that, and those growing pains are necessary — if you want to win a championship, you’re going to have to go through those years where you have situations like that, and hopefully that was our lesson learned. We came out tonight really locked in; you could tell from the first possession how we were going to come out and play. And it was beautiful, beautiful to be a part of a win like that, especially given the circumstances.”
Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said after Game 4 that his team was still using last season’s meltdown as “fuel,” and they backed up that point on Wednesday night, racing out to a 75-51 halftime lead and never looking back. As Mitchell reflected on the Denver series, he said his team learned that it needed to do a better job keeping its focus on the task at hand.
“That was pretty much the mindset,” Mitchell said. “Every quarter. Taking it step by step and understanding that even though it’s a 30-point lead, we still have habits. We still have things we need to focus on and get better at — having that [loss] be so fresh in our brain and having that hurt still there, I think definitely helped with tonight, but it just shows the poise we have as a team, as a unit. We came out with the right mindset and we got to continue to do that.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder echoed a similar sentiment throughout the series, trying to keep his players focused on what was in front of them — not on what happened in the past.
“I think it shows that last year is last year and this year is this year,” Snyder said. “Game 3 is Game 3, Game 5 is Game 5, the thing about this time of year is that it’s just as important to be able to forget as it is to be able to remember. I think our guys have been focused on controlling what we can control to the extent that there’s experience gained, I think that’s relevant.
“But every game’s different, not just every season, every year. I really like that we were able to lock in in Game 2 after losing Game 1. We had some guys that played through fatigue and guys that came up big. You never know who it’s going to be on a given night.”
The only downside of Wednesday’s win was that Conley aggravated a nagging right hamstring injury that he has dealt with at various points throughout the season. He left the game in the second quarter and did not return. He will have an MRI on Thursday morning.
“Frustrated for sure,” Conley said. “It’s something that I’ve worked tirelessly night and day on and put a lot of effort into it. Showing up early, staying late, strengthening, running, conditioning, it’s just one of those things — you don’t know when it will happen or why it happens, it just does. And for me it’s never been a true hamstring pull where it just knocks you out, it’s just like a small tweak that’s just enough to cause discomfort and worry some folks, so that’s the frustrating part.”
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