BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Juwan Morgan's father, mother and sister were all almost in tears.
As the former Indiana standout and current Utah Jazz forward made his first career playoff start, the city of Waynesville, Mo., celebrated.
With starting Jazz point guard Mike Conley out of the bubble to see the birth of his son, Utah coach Quinn Snyder opted to choose Morgan as his replacement for the playoff game against the Denver Nuggets.
The news broke about an hour before tip-off, making Morgan the first-ever undrafted rookie to start a playoff game. Before Monday, Morgan had only played in 21 of Utah's 72 games.
Darren Morgan, Juwan's father, had to go to work since the game had a 1:40 p.m. Eastern Time tip, so he recorded the game to watch it right when got home. But all day during work, he was receiving texts about Juwan.
"He's battling on the boards."
All things Darren knows his son excels at.
"That made me feel good because that’s what he prides himself on," he said. "He doesn’t pride himself on scoring. He prides himself on doing the little things, doing the dirty stuff that most people don’t want to do to help his team."
As soon as Darren got off work, he went straight home, eager to watch the game.
Even though Morgan started for Conley, he didn't play the point guard position. That was left to Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles. Morgan was used to guard Paul Millsap, space the floor with corner threes and attack the glass.
He did just that, playing 25 minutes, scoring three points, grabbing seven rebounds, dishing out one assist and playing good defense on Millsap.
Morgan finished with the highest plus-minus of anyone who played in the game at plus-17.
"To be honest, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, look at my son,'" Darren Morgan said. "My wife was crying, my pastor was crying, my daughter almost started crying. People were texting me from the community. It was a humbling experience for me and my family, and for Juwan."
After going undrafted in 2019, Morgan signed an Exhibit 10 contract to join the Jazz. After a successful four-career at Indiana, many people doubted the NBA was in his future.
His father remembers everything that was said.
"He's not NBA material."
"He's too little."
But now Morgan is playing important minutes in his first-ever playoff series. Conley isn't expected to be back until Game 3, so Morgan will most likely start Game 2 on Wednesday as the Jazz look to overcome the 135-125 overtime loss in Game 1.
Even when Conley comes back, Morgan's performance in his playoff debut may have earned him more meaningful minutes in the future.
"All the hard work he’s put in. You know, when he was at Indiana, he didn’t get a lot of respect," Darren Morgan said. "It was a lot of things people were saying, but he never bowed down to that. He just kept doing what he was supposed to do. His hard work paid off."
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