LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Jamal Murray showed up for his postgame Zoom call wearing a shirt featuring the image of boxing great Muhammad Ali.
Almost fitting, given the Denver Nuggets withstood blow after blow from Donovan Mitchell before landing the knockout punch.
Murray scored 10 of his 36 points in overtime on a day Mitchell erupted for a Jazz playoff-record 57 points and the Nuggets beat Utah 135-125 on Monday in Game 1 of their first-round series.
“It was just lights, camera, action and come on we’re trying to get this win,” Murray explained.
Nikola Jokic finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds for Denver. He had a chance to win it in regulation at the buzzer, but his right-handed hook shot over Utah’s Rudy Gobert was off the mark. Murray took over in the extra period, sealing the game on a 3-pointer with 46.8 seconds remaining.
Game 2 is Wednesday.
Mitchell was the star of the show in the absence of Mike Conley, who left the NBA bubble to return to Ohio for the birth of his son. Mitchell’s scoring spree surpassed the Jazz mark of 50 by Karl Malone on April 22, 2000, against Seattle.
Mitchell was 19 of 33 from the floor and 13 of 13 from the free-throw line. He hit six 3-pointers in 43 minutes, 14 seconds of work. He also had seven assists and nine rebounds.
“The biggest thing was just to try to make the right plays,” the 23-year-old said.
Mitchell’s offensive explosion was the third-most points scored in an NBA playoff game, trailing only Michael Jordan (63) and Elgin Baylor (61), according to Basketball Reference.
For all his offensive handiwork, it was a play near the end of the game that Mitchell lamented. With the Jazz leading 109-105 and 1:46 remaining in regulation, Mitchell was called for an 8-second violation as he dribbled the ball up the floor. Murray promptly responded with a 3-pointer to get Denver right back into the game.
“That’s my fault. As a leader and as a point guard at that time, that’s terrible on my part,” Mitchell said. “That really changed the entire game, that sequence right there.
“At the end of the day, we’re not overreacting. It’s one game.”
It was no surprise this game went down to the wire. Denver went 3-0 against Utah during the regular and restarted season but won by a combined margin of just 11 points, including a 134-132 double-overtime thriller on Aug 8.
Murray and Mitchell stood out in this game — both for their play and their shoes. Wearing neon green shoes, Murray had 20 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Donning highlighter yellow sneakers, Mitchell had 22 points in the fourth and 17 in the second.
And yes, they were chatting in a friendly trash-talk way.
“I’m smiling because those are the games you want to be in,” Murray said. “Those are the games that are the most fun and most competitive.”
Back to the drawing board on defense after Mitchell had such a big game?
“If Donovan Mitchell averages 57 and we win, I’ll stay away from the drawing board,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone cracked. “With no Mike Conley, I said going into the series, `He’s going to be much more aggressive.’ He was that tonight.
“We’re not satisfied. This is a long series. This is one step in a very long series. There’s a lot of things we can do better.”
Jazz: Rookie F Juwan Morgan made his first start. He scored his first playoff basket on a 3-pointer with 7:28 remaining. … Utah was without reserve F/C Ed Davis (left knee). … Gobert scored 17. … Coach Quin Snyder and G Jordan Clarkson were whistled for a pair of technical fouls with 4:33 remaining in the first half.
Nuggets: Starters Will Barton III (knee) and Gary Harris (hip) were held out. They have yet to play in the bubble. … F Jerami Grant had 19 points.
Conley announced the birth of his son, Elijah Michael Conley, on social media late Sunday. The Jazz are in communication with him regarding his status moving forward.
In accordance with the NBA’s COVID-19 policies, Conley is subject to a quarantine of at least four days when he returns to the bubble. He could miss at least the first two games of the series.
His team understands.
“I know he’s with us in mind and spirit, but his body needs to be with his baby and Mary,” Snyder said. “We’re thrilled he’s able to experience that.”
For his pregame Zoom chat with the media, Malone wore a black “Justice for Elijah McClain” shirt. There’s an investigation into the Aurora (Colorado) Police Department, whose officers used a chokehold on McClain before the 23-year-old Black man died last year.
Snyder wore a shirt with a quote attributed to Rosa Parks: “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”