Denver Nuggets 134-132 Utah Jazz: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

Jamal Murray returned and added some much-needed punch to the Nuggets lineup and sparked the Nuggets to a double-overtime win in a 134-132 win in an instant classic.

Murray scored 23 points in his official Bubble debut while Nikola Jokić continued his incredible play in the clutch, leading Denver in scoring with 30 points to go along with 11 rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Donovan Mitchell paced the Jazz with a game-high 35 points.

"[After the game, I told them] just how I proud I was," Malone said after the victory. "It's very easy when that's happening [falling behind by 18] to fall apart and come unglued, we never did that. Our guys believed and we stayed the course." 

Here are the takeaways from a dramatic victory by the Nuggets:

Joker and MPJ deliver again

Jokić explodes in the second half…Stop us if you’ve read this before. In what is becoming a clear pattern, the Nuggets’ all-world center continues to facilitate in the first half before taking over games in the second.

Jokić had just two points on four shots in the first half. He would pour in 28 points for the remainder of the game. The center got going in the third quarter where he would go off for 14 points on 4 of 7 shooting. Entering Saturday’s contest, the 12 minutes after the break have been Jokić’s favorite quarter. In the three games before the game against the Jazz, he’s been averaging 8.7 points in the third – good for seventh in the NBA. Yet, his impact didn’t end there.

There were countless plays in the second half and two overtimes where the Serbian delivered in the clutch, but perhaps his biggest play might have been at the end of the first overtime. Donovan Mitchell appeared to hit a dagger to put the Jazz up two points with 3.4 seconds remaining, but the Joker refused to allow that to be the final play of the game. The center drove to the basket and laid it up against Tony Bradley. The fact the officials forgot to time the play wouldn’t damper the impact of the moment. It would give the Nuggets the momentum entering the second and fortunately final OT, where Michael Malone’s team would pull out the win.

"I don't think and just shoot it. It's easier [that way]," Jokić explained about why he's comfortable in the clutch. 

In also continuing recent trends, Michael Porter Jr. has to be praised for remaining consistent since the NBA’s restart. The Nuggets rookie poured in 23 points and 11 rebounds, going a perfect 8 of 8 from the charity stripe in the process. It is becoming more and more apparent that he has cemented an important role in Malone’s rotation.

Blue Arrow is back

Jamal Murray made his highly anticipated NBA seeding games debut Saturday and he wouldn’t disappoint – especially in the fourth quarter.

With 50 seconds remaining in regulation, Murray was frustrated he missed a shot and demanded the ball back from Jokić. Murray would drive toward the basket and step back, burying a midrange jumper over Jazz guard Mike Conley. It was part of an individual 6-0 run by the Nuggets’ lead guard in the fourth quarter and proved just how dangerous he is in the clutch. This is where Denver has missed their starting point guard.

"I felt good. I felt like it was something I needed. I'm always in great shape, obviously, but not playing for months, coming back and having that kind of intensity kind of game, [it] definitely warmed me [up] with the way I played [and] with the way I shot," Murray said. 

Murray would finish with 23 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists on 40 percent shooting in 39 minutes, sparking his team to get back to winning ways against its Northwest Division rival.

Murray’s added muscle was also a factor in helping the Nuggets on the glass. He was bodying a physical Jazz team in several instances through the game, boxing out and grabbing a game and career-high in rebounds.  

Still, it wasn’t all perfect in Murray’s return. In his absence, the Nuggets have largely relied on Nikola Jokić, Michael Porter Jr., and Jerami Grant to provide the offense. At times during Saturday, it appeared as if Murray was trying to fit in.  He was inconsistent with his shot and struggled to hit from downtown, going 2 of8. That comfort level will likely improve as he gets more minutes and meshes with the rhythm of the offense. All in all, it was an encouraging first game back for the fourth-year guard.

"I kept on talking with Jamal throughout the game. He felt good. He wanted to stay [in the game despite his minutes' restriction]," Malone said. "[He made] some really, really big plays when it mattered most. That kind of reminds us of the potential of our team. And while we've been able to win so many close games, when you have Jamal and Nikola playing with each other off of each other, and for each other, that's a very, very tough duo to guard." 

Bench continues recent uptick

After an inconsistent showing in the first two seeding games, the Nuggets reserves have picked up their production and their strong play continued on Saturday.

Jerami Grant has been on fire in the Nuggets’ last two outings and he had another big game on Saturday against the Jazz – putting up 21 points on 58.3 percent shooting along with two blocks. Another player who has been recently surging is Monte Morris, who had a fifth consecutive game in double-digit scoring, adding 15 points.

Morris returned to his role as the reserve unit’s lead playmaker and provided some much-needed energy to help the Nuggets rally back down from 18-down. It was his three in the fourth quarter that brought the team within two points at the 9:41 mark of the game.

PJ Dozier and Mason Plumlee also deserve praise for their performances. With the Nuggets still missing Gary Harris and Will Barton III, Dozier served as a de facto backup swingman and contributed on defense and facilitating plays.

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