The NBA couldn't have asked for a better game to open the 2020 playoffs with the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz going into overtime to decide a winner in this first-round matchup. Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray exchanged shots back and forth down the stretch, but ultimately Murray's play in overtime carried the Nuggets to a 135-125 win and a 1-0 lead in the series.
Mitchell finished the game with 57 points, becoming the youngest player since Michael Jordan to put up 50-plus points in a playoff game. It appeared that the Jazz were in control for the majority of the second half, and looked like they would be able to put away this win. However, an All-Star effort from Murray forced overtime, and his play -- as well as a meltdown for Utah in OT -- became the deciding factor. Murray scored 10 of his 36 points in OT to secure the win for Denver, and finished the game just shy of a double-double with nine assists.
The 1-2 punch of Murray and Nikola Jokic proved to be too much for Utah, as the sweet-shooting 7-footer displayed his offensive versatility in the first half of the game, and finished the contest with 29 points and 10 boards. A wide open 3-pointer by Jokic with two minutes to go in overtime extended Denver's lead to nine, essentially icing the game for the Nuggets. Here are three takeaways from Denver's thrilling win over the Jazz.
1. Jamal Murray's late-game explosion
Coming into the playoffs, Murray only played in four of Denver's eight seeding games due to left hamstring tightness, and despite solid performances toward the end of the seeding schedule, it was unclear if Murray's conditioning would be up to playoff standards. Murray himself even said that he was "gassed" after his first seeding game back, so there was no telling if he would be ready to go 100 percent right off the bat in this game.
Well, those concerns quickly dissipated in the second quarter of the game, when Murray went on a 12-0 run of his own, then yelled repeatedly to his teammates "they don't want it!" after Utah called a timeout. The fourth-year guard then elevated his play even further down the stretch, putting up 20 points in the fourth quarter and overtime combined. Head coach Mike Malone said after the game that Murray "matched fire with fire," with Mitchell, who was draining shot after shot to keep the Jazz in the game.
With Gary Harris and Will Barton still sidelined for Denver, it was going to need Murray to take his game to another level on offense, and he answered that tenfold. It wasn't just that Murray was racking up points left and right; the degree of difficulty of his buckets just increased every time the ball left his hands. He went 6 of 9 from beyond the arc, and regularly exposed Joe Ingles on defense with his speed going toward the basket. Murray came up huge for Denver, now he'll need to continue that level of play for the duration of this series.
2. Utah's meltdown in overtime
The Jazz really looked like they were going to escape with a win in this game. They were up by four with just under two minutes to play, on the strength of Mitchell's absurd offensive performance. However, they just couldn't answer Murray's scoring run to close out the fourth quarter. Still, Mitchell was doing his best Dwyane Wade impression throughout the second half, and just based on his fourth-quarter play alone, it felt like Utah was going to pull this one out.
Instead, Denver tightened up defensively, forcing four straight turnovers to open OT, two by Mitchell and the other two by Ingles and Gobert. Suddenly, the 51 points scored by Mitchell in those four quarters seemed not to matter anymore, and it became very apparent that the Jazz sorely missed Bojan Bogdanovic and Mike Conley in this game. Aside from Mitchell's six points in overtime, Jordan Clarkson was the second-highest scorer in OT with four points. Gobert didn't attempt a single shot, despite the fact that Jokic showed no signs of being able to put up any sort of defensive resistance against the French big man at all. Utah will get Conley back at some point in the playoffs -- perhaps even in this series -- but every scenario like this, where the defense is hounding Mitchell and the second best scoring option on the floor is Clarkson, it becomes evident that Bogdanovic's presence is sorely missed.
It's going to take a more balanced effort from Utah, from players like Royce O'Neale, Georges Niang and others for the Jazz to have a chance in this game. Utah can't put all this on Mitchell to put up 50-plus points a night, just for the team to lose.
3. The NBA couldn't have asked for a better opener
While it might not be ratings gold like a LeBron James-led game, the Nuggets and Jazz delivered from an entertainment perspective. Mitchell and Murray trading blows in the fourth quarter and overtime had a real Game 7 of the NBA Finals feeling, not the first game of the entire playoffs, and that's a good thing. There are surely going to be some dud games throughout the first round, especially as the Bucks and Raptors take on the Magic and Nets respectively, but you couldn't tip the postseason off any better than this. The quality of play in the NBA bubble has already been outstanding, and that was just the tail end of the regular season. If this Nuggets-Jazz game is any indication of what we're in for as it gets later into the playoffs, then the league can rest easy knowing that at least the product being put on the floor is as good as it is when these guys are playing in packed arenas.