DENVER | The game had a certain intensity — not necessarily playoff intensity, Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic cautioned, but definitely a tension.
They always do when these two fierce Northwest Division rivals take the court.
Reserve Jordan Clarkson scored 23 points, Donovan Mitchell added 18 and the Utah Jazz beat the Nuggets 109-105 Sunday night in their first meeting since a thrilling playoff series last season that Denver captured in seven games.
“That kind of game,” Jokic said. “Intense. It was good basketball.”
Rudy Gobert finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds in a contest in which Mitchell struggled with his shot, going 7 of 20 from the field. But Mitchell hit a clutch fadeaway with 1:01 remaining and with Denver staging a late rally. Mitchell also had seven assists as the Jazz won their fifth straight game.
Jokic had 35 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists, while Jamal Murray chipped in 30 — 24 in the first half — for the Nuggets. Murray averaged 31.6 points in the first-round playoff series inside the NBA bubble to help the Nuggets overcome a 3-1 deficit to knock off the Jazz.
The Jazz took the lead for good late in the third quarter when Mike Conley stole the ball from Jokic and dished it over to Clarkson, who hit a 3-pointer. But the Nuggets hung around until end. Murray drained a 3-pointer with about seven seconds remaining to bring the Nuggets to within 107-105.
Gobert sealed the win with a dunk.
“It’s not always going to be sunshine and rainbows where we execute the game plan 110%,” Mitchell explained. “We went out there and for us, just asserting our will. Finding ways to win the game by any means necessary.”
The 2020 first-round series between the two teams inside the NBA bubble turned into the Mitchell & Murray Show, with both guards turning in electric performances. Mitchell averaged 36.3 points during the series and Murray countered with a pair of 50-point games.
“I really feel that first-round matchup will go down as one of the better playoff series played,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “You had all the drama going on — we got down 3-1 and we come back and win. Within that, you have two young dynamic players, Murray and Mitchell, that put on an incredible show game after game after game.”
This matchup had an entirely different look. The Nuggets no longer have Jerami Grant, Torrey Craig or Mason Plumlee. The Jazz had back Bojan Bogdanovic, who missed the playoffs due to wrist surgery. He was the X-factor in this contest, hitting five 3-pointers and scoring 17.
“It’s still the Jazz and the Nuggets. Whether you need to reference (the series) or not, your players remember,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Given the fact that it is the first time we have played them since then, I don’t know if it’s in the front of your mind, but it is certainly something you have thought about.”
The Nuggets finished 40 of 100 from the field. They took 24 more shots than Utah.
“Small details win the game between us and them,” Jokic said.
Jazz: Utah went 15 of 37 from the 3-point line. … Conley finished with 14 points and eight assists.
Nuggets: F Michael Porter Jr. missed a ninth straight game due to the league’s health and safety protocols. … Reserve P.J. Dozier had nine points.
Malone applauded the upset win by the Colorado women’s team over top-ranked Stanford down the road in Boulder on Sunday. The Buffaloes won 77-72 in overtime for the women’s first victory over a No. 1 team in program history.
“Great win,” Malone said.
JOKIC VS. GOBERT
Don’t ask Jokic about going up against Gobert in the middle. He doesn’t see it that way.
“I’m playing against the Utah Jazz,” Jokic said.
Jazz: Host New Orleans on Tuesday and again on Thursday.
Nuggets: Close out a three-game homestand by hosting Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.