The Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz have had many classic games, but this was a quintessential clash in Game 1 of the 2020 NBA Playoffs that Denver won in overtime, 135-125. Donovan Mitchell poured in 57 for the Jazz in a losing effort, the youngest player to put in 50+ in a playoff game since Michael Jordan. Jordan too lost when he put up 63 against the Boston Celtics, causing Larry Bird to famously describe it as “it’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.” Donovan’s heroics came up short because of Denver’s own two basketball deities, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, who put up a combined 65 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists and took control down the stretch and into overtime to eke out the win.

Game Summary

Denver won the tip but Torrey Craig missed the corner three. O’Neal swished his three, but Jokic finished a Murray assist back the other way. Porter grabbed a Gobert miss and pulled up for his own off-the-bounce three. Jokic drew the foul on Gobert and got an and-one for an early 8-5 lead for Denver. A missed oop on the fast break and a few Millsap misses didn’t help Denver as they went 3-for-11 to start but the energy and looks were good. Gobert and Murray exchanged layups, Jokic swished a jumper over Gobert and both Craig and MPJ finished off three-point shots for an 18-14 Denver lead.

Craig swished another three, Jokic followed, and Denver’s lead climbed to 8. Utah’s bench cut it to three but PJ Dozier swished his first three point attempt. Monte Morris also took up the three-point challenge, making Denver 7-for-14 from the arc in the quarter, but a Jordan Clarkson three to close the quarter made it 31-25 Denver after one.

Clarkson opened the second quarter with a one-footed three, making that 8 straight points for Clarkson, but Jerami Grant answered right back. Mudiay bricked another shot, Grant hit a long 2, but Plumlee pulled his third foul of the half and had to sit, bringing Jokic back in at the 9 minute mark. A steal and a finger-roll from MPJ put Denver up 10, 38-28. 

Donovan Mitchell blew past Jokic on the perimeter for a huge dunk over Grant, but Grant quietly responded with a drawn foul and a couple of free throws. Mitchell and Gobert cut the the lead to 5, then a Murray turnover at the rim led to a Mitchell three that tied it up at 43. Murray, angry at himself, answered with a three and a tough step-back two, then finished in the paint causing a technical foul call on Jordan Clarkson and Quin Snyder. Murray hit both techs and then a three for 12 straight points and a 55-45 Denver lead.

Grant to Millsap for a layup made it 12, but Joe Ingles swished a three on Jokic and Murray failed to finish a nice drive. Both teams looked tired to wrap the quarter as missed layups abounded, with a botched alley oop from Grant to MPJ finishing Denver’s scoring attempts in the half. Mitchell finally hit a last-second layup ad dragged Utah to within 7, 59-52.

Gobert and Mitchell scored the first two buckets of the second half, while Craig was called for his fourth foul. Gobert blocked two paint shots from MPJ as Denver’s offense stagnated away from Jokic, while Utah executed their screen and roll to perfection, tying the game at 59 early. Jokic missed an elbow jumper but Porter swished a three. Jokic and Porter both finished paint buckets as Denver wrenched control of the game back, with a Monte Morris drive giving Denver a 68-61 lead. Mitchell answered back though, and Georges Niang tied it at 68 again. Mitchell and Grant traded tough layup finishes, but a 12-2 Utah run made life difficult for Denver. Jokic answered back but Utah had more urgency than the Nuggets. Morris finished in the paint, MPJ missed a three, and a Utah deflection and fastbreak was endemic of the quarter as Utah wanted it more and led after 3, 83-78. 

Denver’s first made bucket was a transition oop from Morris to Plumlee 2 minutes in, but the two teams just traded buckets and misses until Millsap finally hit a 3 and pulled Denver to within 1, 90-89. Morgan made a corner three for Utah, answered by Grant, and then a beautiful court-length pass to Grant for a finish put Denver up 94-93.

Denver and Utah traded 1-point leads, but Donovan Mitchell just kept making every shot on the court, hitting threes, creating fouls, and driving the basket at will. A Jokic three dragged the Denver deficit back to just one, 102-101. Jokic finished inside for a lead with four minutes to go. Denver couldn’t get crucial rebounds to stop Utah’s second chance points, though, and Mitchell was an incandescent flame. Neither team could get more than a two-score lead, and a Utah 8-second violation led to Murray swishing a three to close to 109-108 Utah. MPJ got pulled at the end of the game as his offense had evaporated and Utah was targeting him on defense every time. Another Murray three tied it, and scored 10 in a row to get Denver up 2 with under a minute to go in regulation. Mitchell fired right back to tie, but Jokic collected a Murray miss and got to the line to give Denver the lead back at 115-113. Torrey Craig fouled out trying to defend Mitchell, Jokic had a great look but missed the final shot over Gobert and the game went to overtime tied at 115.

Mitchell missed his first shot of overtime, and Murray had an unbelievable dribble-finish through multiple defenders to open the scoring. A Jokic turnover didn’t help, but a Morris three off a Murray miss-and-rebound put Denver up 5, 120-115, and then Murray threw a three-point dagger. Denver forced several Utah turnovers with Grant showing everywhere and harrassed Utah’s ball handlers, but Clarkson managed a bucket anyway. Jokic hit a three off a Murray assist to force the lead to 9.  

Clarkson got a lucky deflection for a bucket, Murray hit a long step-back two, and Mitchell hit yet another shot to get to 54 points. Murray would not be denied, though, with Murray hitting his playoff high of 36 off another three. Mitchell hit another layup and free throw but it wouldn’t matter. Denver just had too much with its two stars putting their stamp on the game down the stretch as Denver won 135-125.

Final Thoughts

– Mitchell is unbelievable, and Denver had zero answers. The Jazz needed a huge game from Mitchell and he delivered, from every spot on the court and in every way. 57 points in any game is terrific, but Murray put the Jazz on his back, even hitting crucial free throws to tie the game in the final minute. Utah’s chances in this season are directly related to Mitchell pulling off a Damian Lillard impression and dragging Utah to at least one win single-handedly, and he almost did it in this one.

– Denver got owned on the glass. The Jazz out-rebounded them by 14 in regulation, and by 9 on the offensive glass. Denver normally takes pride in getting rebounds but every 50/50 ball seemed to go Utah’s way. It’s not enough just to be taller, Denver is going to have to work the glass to avoid these sorts of games the rest of the series. Consider this a wakeup call. 

– The Nuggets did not play their game to start the second half, but finished the game right. Assists were down for most of the game, even with higher shooting averages (50% from the floor, almost 50% from 3). MPJ was left out of the second half offense as Denver reverted to their playoff-standard two-man game with Murray and Jokic and both men willed the victory to happen. Denver coming out of halftime flat certainly didn’t help, scoring just 19 points in the quarter, but the Nuggets are going to have a tough time with Utah if they are simply going to try to outshoot them. Remembering who they are and going to their stars helped the Nuggets put Game 1 in the win column. It was a good refresher.

– MPJ got his playoff baptism by fire. Porter started the game well, hitting confident jumpers and looking like nerves would not get the best of him. The Jazz attacked his defense at every opportunity in the second half, though, and his offensive confidence seemed to waver along with it. He was pulled in the final minutes of regulation as a liability. That happened to Jamal Murray in the last playoffs as well – it’s a good opportunity to learn, and Porter has proven to be a quick study. He’ll need to figure it out fast for Denver, though, as he can’t handle his part of the scoring responsibilities from the bench and the Nuggets will need him the rest of this series.

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