SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe Paul Millsap should have taken the stairs.
On Monday morning, hours after the Jazz beat the Nuggets in Game 4, Millsap and some teammates were joined in the hotel elevator by not the most welcomed guests: their first-round opponents.
As the Nuggets made their way down to film study, some Jazz players were heading down too (no word on if there was a staring contest this time around).
“It's really awkward and weird, but it's the situation that we're in,” Millsap said.
The Jazz and Nuggets are staying in the same hotel at the NBA campus in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. And, yes, that has led to some uncomfortable interactions over the last week as the two teams have faced off in the playoffs. Interactions that started almost immediately once the series began.
Soon after Donovan Mitchell dropped 57 in Utah’s Game 1 loss, Jamal Murray saw him sitting alone at a table. Murray couldn’t resist the urge to show the world just how strange this year's postseason journey is.
“The craziest thing about being in the bubble?” Murray said while looking at his phone on an Instagram story. He then pointed the camera to Mitchell and shouted: “I have to see this dude right after the game. He just dropped 57!”
Elevator greetings? Postgame callouts? These are moments that wouldn’t happen in a normal year. Teams would play, maybe share some handshakes, and then go their separate ways until next game. In the bubble, though, you’re likely to see each other on your way back to the hotel, then at the hotel, then walking around on an off day.
“It’s a little weird,” Mitchell said. “I know pretty much everybody on that team off the court, but right now it's business. That's really all it is. You can see them, walk by them, but it's business and you just gotta stay locked in.”
So far the Jazz have done that. They head into Game 5 with a chance to close out Denver and end these awkward interactions. With one more victory Utah will send the Nuggets packing — literally. Teams have to leave almost immediately upon being eliminated.
So call the series a battle for the hotel. But even with a win on Tuesday, the Jazz might not be free from their opponents living in the same place for long. The Clippers, who are tied 2-2 with the Mavericks, are also staying at The Gran Destino Tower.
The ironic thing about the at-times-uncomfortable greeting is that coaches and players said having the other teams around helped in the early stages of bubble life. Everyone was adjusting to the same new life together and that created a quasi-collegiate environment. It was fun. Now, it's just kind of weird.
“Everybody has a competitive spirit. So, when you're in the situation, that's there,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “But I think everybody's also very professional and to the extent that there's less interaction, of course there is. But at the same time, everybody's professional. … I think you leave it on the court, so to speak.”
So while it might have been weird for Millsap to ride down in an elevator with the Jazz, it's not like it was hostile. A thought that Nikola Jokic simply laughed about.
“Realize we are playing basketball. It’s not like we are in a war,” Jokic said. “It’s a war on the floor, but it’s still a game of basketball that we all enjoy to play. It’s not something we are going to kill each other for. Maybe on the floor, but outside of the floor, why? We are all eating the same bread.”