• Jamal Murray plays hero, takes over down the stretch
  • Jokic wins Game 1 of the Gobert matchup by a hair
  • Donovan Mitchell proved he’s a star, end of story
  • MPJ starts slow, will learn a lot
  • Monte Morris was the unsung hero

This was one of the great playoff games the Denver Nuggets have ever played in their franchise history. The execution was great, the competition was fierce, and the Nuggets came through with a victory to go up 1-0 in the series against the Utah Jazz.

Here are my five takeaways:

Jamal Murray takes over like the star he is

What more can be said about Jamal Murray other than him being made of stronger stuff than almost anyone? Denver needed a lift with the way Michael Porter Jr. was struggling today. Monte Morris and Jerami Grant were good, Nikola Jokic was great, but Jamal Murray was the key. He put the Nuggets on his back in the fourth quarter and overtime and elevated Denver when they needed it most.

Murray finished with 36 points, nine assists, five rebounds, and just three turnovers in 40 minutes, shooting 13/20 from the field, 6/9 from three, and 4/4 from the free throw line. The Jazz utilized Royce O’Neale as the primary defender on Murray to begin matters, but O’Neale picked up his fifth foul in the fourth quarter. As soon as Joe Ingles switched onto Murray, the Blue Arrow started to light things up from everywhere. He had the ball on a string, weaving in between defenders to get to the rim or create space for himself on the perimeter.

This was perhaps the most control Murray has ever displayed in an NBA game. More than the efficiency or pretty moves, Murray looked confident out there, executing exactly what he wanted down the stretch, and helped Denver take Game 1 going away in OT.

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Nikola Jokic vs Rudy Gobert goes to Jokic this time around

The battle between the best offensive center and best defensive center was always going to be a heavyweight fight. Jokic didn’t offer much of any resistance on the defensive end today, while Gobert missed five free throws and hurt the Jazz offensively. But that wasn’t what those centers were out there to do.

Jokic put up 29 points on 13/21 from the field and 4/7 from three-point range. He only had three assists today as the Jazz did a great job of sitting on his passing angles and forcing the Nuggets to do different things offensively. Before today, the Nuggets were 44-70 in Jokic’s career in games that Jokic has three assists or fewer. If Utah continues to sit on Jokic’s passing lanes and force him to go 1-on-1 against Gobert, Jokic has to be willing to do so. He was tonight, and he put up an efficient 29 points because of it.

Donovan Mitchell proves he’s a star

The reason why the Nuggets needed such massive performances from Murray and Jokic came down to Donovan Mitchell. The ire of Nuggets fans after the 2017 draft, Mitchell came out firing in this game and never stopped making shots until the very end. He finished with an absurd 57 points on 19/33 from the field, 6/15 from three, and 13/13 from the free throw line. That’s as efficient of a high scoring performance Mitchell has ever had, and the Jazz needed every bit of it to stay in this game.

The Nuggets will need to find better ways to combat Mitchell defensively. Torrey Craig fouled out of this game with only 21 minutes played. Jerami Grant was up and down as the man defender but came up with some stops in overtime. Jamal Murray and Monte Morris struggled in pick and roll coverage, and neither Paul Millsap nor Nikola Jokic could stay in front of the Louisville product.

This is where having Gary Harris and Will Barton would be huge for the Nuggets. Until they play though, Denver needs better self control from Craig on the fouls and a better performance all around from the rest of the defense going forward.

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MPJ starts slow, will go through growing pains

For the first time in the bubble, Michael Porter Jr. truly looked like a rookie defensively. He has had miscues before today, but the Jazz were the first team to truly hunt Porter on every possession. They put him in every pick and roll, forced him to make quick decisions, and ultimately isolated against him if Porter found a way to navigate those initial coverages. There were some good moments for Porter, but it was mostly bad.

Offensively, Porter started off the game by hitting multiple pull-up three-pointers over Joe Ingles, and it looked like Porter was heading for an explosive scoring performance. When that didn’t manifest, Porter tried his best to find other ways to score and impact the game, but he wasn’t crisp. All in all, Porter scored 13 points on 5/13 from the field and 3/7 from three to go with eight rebounds, a solid perimeter shooting performance to be clear, but not good enough to stay on the floor in crunch time defensively.

I thought Malone handled his minutes perfectly. He gave Porter plenty of opportunities to prove himself tried to hide Porter on different Jazz perimeter players, and made sure he continued receiving touches throughout the game. Porter has to respond in kind and play better defensively. Joe Ingles is going to make him a better basketball player by the end of this series because the moves and tricks Ingles utilizes against Porter were on full display in Game 1.

Here’s hoping for Porter to catch fire in Game 2.

Monte Morris (and PJ Dozier) showed up big

With Torrey Craig fouled out and with Michael Porter Jr. and Paul Millsap struggling defensively on the perimeter, the task fell to Monte Morris and PJ Dozier to help close out that game in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Starting with Dozier, Denver’s ninth man in their rotation, it’s important to note that the Nuggets have a ton of confidence in Dozier. He proved himself throughout training camp, the regular season, and now here in the bubble that he’s a capable bench performer with a lot of talent. The box score stats don’t do him justice, but he was very solid in his 20 minutes off the bench. He played the entire overtime period, executed well defensively, got a couple rebounds, and let Jokic and Murray do the rest. It will go under the radar, but Dozier was big time today.

Morris was even bigger. In 29 minutes off the bench, Morris chipped in 14 points, four assists, and just turnover on 6/9 from the field and 2/3 from three-point territory. He had several important baskets throughout the game, but the threes were especially important. Last year, Morris was 0/13 from the perimeter during the entire playoffs, and his lack of a confident jumper played him off the floor. Today, we saw a more confident version of Morris who stepped up exactly when he needed to.

Big time players make big time plays.