Jamal Murray, Nuggets survive gripping overtime session, Donovan Mitchell’s 57 in Game 1 win – The Denver Post
In case there was any question whether NBA playoff tension would translate to the bubble, Monday’s Game 1 delivered with a resounding yes.
A gripping, dramatic opener turned into a riveting overtime affair that the Nuggets’ young stars weren’t going to lose. Jamal Murray ripped the game from Utah star Donovan Mitchell’s clutches, and poured in 10 points in the extra session to carry the Nuggets to a 135-125 victory in Game 1.
Game 2, if either team has anything left, is Wednesday.
Murray finished with 36 points, including six 3-pointers, outlasting Mitchell’s career-high 57 points. No defensive scheme or player came close to impeding the Jazz’s sensational star.
Nuggets franchise center Nikola Jokic finished with 29 points and four 3-pointers, but missed what would’ve been the game-winning look in regulation over Utah’s Rudy Gobert. Jokic aided Murray’s overtime attack with a clutch 3-pointer of his own.
The shot making from both teams, in their creativity and level of difficulty, was stunning, especially for a Game 1. Though Murray seized the overtime session, it was Denver’s defense that halted any Utah momentum. The Nuggets forced three consecutive turnovers in overtime as Murray continued his assault on the other end.
That the Jazz made it close, without starting point guard Mike Conley, who left the bubble for the birth of his son Sunday, suggests a dramatic series moving forward.
The Nuggets came out flat in the third quarter after sinking a franchise-record 11 3-pointers in the first half. Mitchell swiveled in and out of Denver’s defense, which was already compromised from injuries. Foul trouble to Torrey Craig didn’t help, and neither did the injury absences of Gary Harris (hip) and Will Barton (knee).
Mitchell spearheaded Utah’s 31-point third quarter, which featured devilish finishes and Rudy Gobert’s patented screen assists that set the foundation for so many of Utah’s actions. With Denver’s offense momentarily out of sync, Monte Morris’ steady play kept it close. He had several physical finishes inside to trim the deficit to 83-78 heading into the fourth.
Murray’s series seemed to start late in the second quarter when Denver’s emotional point guard could be heard audibly yelling on the broadcast. First Utah reserve Jordan Clarkson picked up a technical foul, seemingly displeased with an official’s call, and that was followed shortly thereafter by another from Jazz coach Quin Snyder. Both technicals were sandwiched in between Murray’s personal 12-point run that spanned just 1:25. After a 3-pointer capped his spurt and prompted a Jazz timeout, Murray tossed a fiery glance toward Utah’s bench.
If Jokic is Denver’s floor leader, Murray is their emotional touchstone.
As tense as Monday was, Nuggets coach Michael Malone made a concerted effort to project a positive outlook to his team. Without Harris and Barton to begin the playoffs, few teams have had to endure more adversity than what the Nuggets had to overcome over the past five weeks. And as daunting as it’s been, Malone still described a “nervous energy” Sunday night that kept him awake and running through final preparations.
“I’m not a big Christmas fan,” Malone quipped on a holiday comparison to playoff eve. “I wouldn’t use that analogy. I slept like a baby. I got up every two hours and cried.”
Game 1 represented a culmination of what’s so far been a slog in Orlando. The Nuggets didn’t arrive in the bubble close to healthy and it took weeks before they could even conduct a scrimmage within their own practice.
“I knew that this first 41 days or so was going to be a grind,” Malone said. “… Once we got to the playoffs, that was hopefully where you would get your second wind, if you will. … I think our guys are in a good place, obviously still undermanned with two starters out, but the guys that are available to go, I think there’s a good energy about us right now.”
The fact that the NBA even made it to Monday’s game, considering all the league had been through since March, should’ve been celebrated. Coincidentally, both the Nuggets and Jazz were involved in two of the last games before the NBA’s hiatus.
“This is historical,” Malone said. “It was a four-and-a-half month hiatus, we come back, we play and now we’re in the playoffs. It’s great to be here. Let’s embrace it and let’s have some fun with it.”
For weeks the Nuggets’ defense looked like it stayed in Denver. Once Monday’s game tipped, Malone’s men looked far more engaged, with crisp defensive rotations and multiple efforts along the perimeter.
The Nuggets carried a 59-52 lead into halftime after a stingy defensive performance that will likely get overshadowed due to the offensive exploits of Murray, Porter and Jokic. Together, the three combined for 35 points in the first half, led by 14 from Murray and 12 from Jokic.
Mitchell’s 19 first-half points helped Utah keep pace despite Denver’s 11 first-half 3-pointers.