SALT LAKE CITY — Save two bubble games against the San Antonio Spurs in which Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder used mostly end-of-the-bench players, rookie Juwan Morgan played just 41 minutes the entire regular season.

That’s certainly a lot of steps removed from starting in your first-ever playoff game, but that’s the position Morgan found himself in Monday as the Jazz opened the postseason against the Denver Nuggets in Orlando.

3 keys in the Utah Jazz’s 135-125 overtime loss to Denver Nuggets in Game 1
Who is Juwan Morgan? Seldom-used Utah Jazz rookie starts Game 1 of playoffs

With Mike Conley in Ohio after his wife gave birth early Sunday, Snyder called on Morgan to be in his first five, and not only did Morgan manage, but he outright excelled. Playing the power forward position, the 6-foot-7, 232-pound Morgan finished with just three points, but he pulled down seven rebounds and tallied an assist and a steal in 25 minutes of play.

In addition, Morgan was a plus-17 for the day, meaning Utah outscored Denver by 17 points during the time he was on the floor. That can at times be a misleading and controversial stat, but the high number combined with the fact the next closest Jazzmen were Georges Niang at plus-3 and Emmanuel Mudiay at plus-1 indicates Morgan did something right.

More abstractly, the former Indiana Hoosier played excellent defense and was in on a bunch of hustle plays throughout the game.

(3) Denver Nuggets

vs. (6) Utah Jazz

Game 1

Nuggets 135, Jazz 125 (OT)

Game 2

Jazz 124, Nuggets 105

Game 3

Jazz 124, Nuggets 87

Game 4

Jazz 129, Nuggets 127

Game 5

Nuggets 117, Jazz 107

Game 6

Nuggets 119, Jazz 107

Game 7

Nuggets 80, Jazz 78, Nuggets win series 4-3

“It was crazy, just everything that led up to it, Coach telling everybody at practice,” Morgan said of getting the start. “I think everybody reached out just saying, ‘It’s just basketball. We do this every day. It’s nothing different. Just go out there and know the plays and give your all.’ And that’s what I did.”

As marvelous as Donovan Mitchell was in scoring a franchise playoff-high 57 points, he opened his postgame Zoom press conference by giving major kudos to Morgan, who went undrafted last summer before signing with the Jazz a short time later and spending a bunch of the season with the NBA G League’s Salt Lake City Stars.

“First off, I just want to give a huge shoutout to Juwan Morgan,” Mitchell said. “Very impressive for a rookie to come in and start his first playoff game and contribute the way he did.”

Mitchell was particularly complimentary of the way Morgan defended former Jazzman Paul Millsap, who scored just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting. Millsap also grabbed just three rebounds and had no assists.

“Huge credit to him,” Mitchell continued about Morgan. “I know a lot of people were probably confused (why Morgan started), but we trust him. Shoutout to him for stepping up.”

Rudy Gobert, a pretty good defender in his own right, called Morgan’s performance “amazing,” but said, “I told him after the game, ‘That’s great, but now you’ve got to do that (expletive) again, and probably again.’ Great, big minutes from him. It wouldn’t be a close game without him.”

Snyder said the reasoning behind starting Morgan was to allow Jordan Clarkson to continue to come off the bench, a role the coach feels Clarkson thrives best in. The hope, Snyder said, was that Morgan would give some good minutes in the first and third quarters, but the 23-year-old exceeded that.

“Frankly, he did an excellent job,” Snyder said. “I want him to take his 3 from the corner. He made one of them. I thought he was very active and aggressive, committed to the defensive glass. A lot of good things from Juwan.”

Then Snyder echoed Gobert’s words: “Look for more of that.”