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The Nuggets got back on the right track tonight with a 110-91 win over the Jazz. Denver now holds a 2-1 season series lead over their division rival. This was a nice bounce-back game for the team before they head to LaLa land.
"It was a bounce back game, [we] played the right way," said George Karl. "[We] played with some passion and intensity and I thought we got everything we wanted to do."
The Nuggets were able to open up the transition game, score down low, get to the rim, shoot a bunch of free throws (and make 71.8% of them), turn the Jazz over (19 times), and hold the Jazz down defensively.
Last night in Utah's win over the Suns, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson combined for 40 points and 18 rebounds. Tonight they combined for 27 points and 15 rebounds. Millsap shot just 4-12 and Jefferson 4-13.
"I thought our big guys were really good," said Karl. "I thought JaVale [McGee], Kenneth [Faried], and Kosta [Koufos] all played at a high level. They are all taking the challenge and bouncing back. The last three days have made me very confident in this team that they do understand. When you blow a game - sometimes you don't think they do."
This was a vintage Nuggets game. Utah came out in the second night of a back-to-back and played with energy early and stuck right with and even led the Nuggets for much of the first and second quarters. But then some classic Karl-ball took over.
"I thought the end of the second quarter the game was breaking our way," said Karl. "I thought we were wearing them down a little bit."
With the game tied at 40-40 with 3:53 left in the first half, the Nuggets went on a 9-5 run to close the half. The biggest momentum swing came when Danilo Gallinari bulled his way to the rim, withstood some contact, and dunked the ball with two hands while being fouled. Gallo sunk the free throw coming out of a timeout and Denver was up 44-42 and finally had their first lead since it was 11-10 (Denver) in the first quarter.
Karl was happy with the flow and tempo that Gallo, Andre Iguodala, and Ty Lawson provided. The trio played an aggressive game and when they were not scoring (Gallo 26 points, Iguodala 18 points, and Lawson 14 points) they were setting up teammates as they also combined for 9 assists. They would have had more assists if guys would have finished some easy looks. Faried in particular will miss an easy shot and then grab his own board and put it in.
Speaking of Faried, he was ill before the game, but powered through to come up with 15 points and 10 rebounds (3 offensive). Like Karl noted, the big guys for Denver did a nice job defensively against the Jazz strength - their bigs. Karl was worried before the game about Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson, but the two were total non-factors as they combined for just 12 points and 7 assists.
The only area of concern is the Nuggets continuing to foul too often. The Jazz are a low-post team, but they are not always super aggressive. I thought Utah did a good job of being aggressive, at times, and getting themselves to the foul line. Utah shot a whopping 35 free throws and connected on 26 of them. Karl's bunch needs to clean up the fouling a bit and hopefully the men in gray will let some physical play go uncalled moving forward (as they had been doing most of the season).
With a game tomorrow in Los Angeles, it was key for Denver to get the rotation guys a bit of rest. The starters all played around 30 minutes this evening and Lawson played 24 minutes. The high minute man off the bench was McGee with just 22 minutes played.
Karl emptied his bench completely at the 5:27 mark when Julyan Stone made his season debut subbing in for Koufos. Stone played alongside Evan Fournier, Jordan Hamilton, Anthony Randolph, and Timofey Mozgov. Such a young lineup there ... it was nice to see them get a little burn.
Karl had high praise for Stone after the game.
"I like his speed and I like his size," Karl said of Stone. "I like him so much that I talked to some of the veterans about it today - about is he good enough defensively to play at the end of games? No one said no to that. He is that good defensively."
Karl continued with his talk of Stone being another defensive ace that he might have at his disposal.
"I don't know if you can have a specialist in that situation, but mentally he would stay focused, he would understand it. I think he's a pretty amazing defensive guy," said Karl. "He's not in great shape, but he has done a great job getting back on the court."
Stone has been battling back from a similar hip ailment as Wilson Chandler and underwent surgery back in July to repair his hip. He was such a promising undrafted free agent out of UTEP that not only did he make the team, but Karl wasn't afraid to play him during some stretches and used his defensive prowess to the teams advantage.
It was nice to see Julyan back on the floor again, continuing his NBA career. He told me after the game about his first NBA action of the season.
"It felt good. Being out for six months from something that you've done your whole life is tough, but being out there was refreshing," said Stone. "My wind is still not game ready, but I felt like everything else is good. I got to get adjusted to the game, the foul calls, and stuff like that."
With the way Stone's game has progressed, it won't take him long to get back into shape. I asked Stone what he thought about being a defensive specialist.
"Whatever I got to do to get on the court," said Stone. "It's about working my way in and building his [Karl's] trust."
From the sounds of it, Karl trusts and likes what he sees out of the second year player.
"He understands our game very well," said Karl. "And defensively, as I said, he's one of the best young defenders I've ever seen."
Now if Stone could just get his teammates to help him out with what he also does very well ... racking up assists. Stone broke Tim Hardaway's assist record back at UTEP and was eager to get the fans some Taco Bell tonight by dishing the ball to Hamilton.
"I was hoping he'd make the shot so I'd get the assist, but it was great for the fans to get it [110 points off a Hamilton free throw] and I'm going to go get some tacos, too."
Let's hope that the Los Angeles area honors Denver's taco deal ...
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