SALT LAKE CITY — Now where have we seen this before?
Last August, the Utah Jazz went up 3-1 in their first-round series in the NBA bubble. If you need a reminder, they lost three straight to get knocked out of the playoffs.
Now, less than a year later, the Jazz find themselves in a similar situation. So the question following Utah's Game 4 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday was an obvious one: How will this year be different?
The thing is, for the Jazz, it already has been.
It's impossible to know if Utah would have been the best team in the league in the regular season or if it had fully committed to a new offensive identity if last season's embarrassment wouldn't have occurred. But, regardless, the Jazz view that collapse as the driving force to its entire season.
"We played up to being this team that we've been because of that moment." Donovan Mitchell said.
On Wednesday (7:30 p.m. MT, Vivint Arena), the Jazz can officially prove the pain wasn't all for naught.
"Last year's last year — just like the regular season is the regular season," coach Quin Snyder said. "I think there's things that you take from the past that you learn from and there's experience. For our group that's been going on for a while. This is a team that was questioned on every level last May. Those types of moments and that type of adversity, if handled properly, you learn from it, and you are better."
Utah has faced plenty of doubts this season. From its personnel, to its style of play, to its track record. A lot of them stem from that first-round collapse last season. If Mitchell and Rudy Gobert had led their team to the Western Conference Final, is anyone really questioning their No. 1 record? It would just appear to be the natural progression.
But the Jazz aren't the same team they were last season. For starters, Bojan Bogdanovic is back after missing last year's playoffs. He's averaging 18.8 points and shooting 42% from three. The Jazz also have Derrick Favors who has been a revelation backing up Gobert in the first four games of the series. Mike Conley is more comfortable, Jordan Clarkson more reliable, and the team has a whole different mindset.
"I think the biggest thing is ... we came in happy for the win, but we didn't really come in the locker room, like 'we got them,'" Mitchell said. "The job's not done; it's not finished. I think that's the message; I know that's the message. We have to go out there and take care of home court back in Utah and I think that's where our head is at."
That implies, and Mitchell confirmed as such, that wasn't necessarily the mindset after going up 3-1 against Denver last year.
"We felt like 'Oh, it's OK. We got it. They got to win three more times in a row,'" Mitchell said.
After seeing the Denver Nuggets do just that, Utah knows how fast a playoff lead can disappear. And with Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks playing at an exceptionally high level, the Grizzlies are still a force. Utah has blown out a lot of teams this season, but it hasn't been able to shake Memphis for long.
Some of that is self inflicted — Mitchell lamented multiple times on a poor long pass he made when the Jazz were threatening to gain separation in Mondays' win — but more of it is a pure determination from the Grizzlies. Morant and Brooks have embraced the moment, learning on the fly what it takes to compete in a playoff series.
The Jazz have been the reluctant teachers. But they're hoping it's just a five-part course.
"We know that they're not going to give up, they're going to come out and give everything they have," Gobert said. "They won two of those games before the playoffs (in the play-in tournament), so they've been in the situation before. So they're gonna come in and play really hard and try to beat us."
But in a different sense, so, too, have the Jazz.
"We've seen this before, we've been here before," Mitchell said.
And because of that, the Jazz know how to handle it — even if that is just looking at what they didn't do last year.
"I think that having that will allow us to kind of come in and be like, 'Alright, this is what we got to do: one more hit, one more sprint to the corner, getting back on defense. taking the foul.' … Having that be so fresh ... I think it definitely helps us understand that Game 5 isn't guaranteed."
Utah vs. Memphis
(Utah leads 3-1)
Game 1: Memphis 112, Utah 109
Game 2: Utah 141, Memphis 129
Game 3: Utah 121, Memphis 111
Game 4: Utah 120, Memphis 113
Game 5: Wednesday, June 2, at Utah, 7:30 p.m.
*Game 6: Friday, June 4, at Memphis, TBA
*Game 7: Sunday, June 6, at Utah, TBA