The Denver Nuggets came out of the gates so slowly tonight, you'd have thought they would have been the ones having had the "Spinal Tap" of a back-to-back 2nd night. The Utah Jazz were thumped last night at home by the 5-seed Portland Trailblazers, and limped into Denver today with one of the leagues' poorest road records. It really was an odd and unexpected start to the game.
From the outset, the Jazz found ways to abuse a Nuggets weakness on the floor. Early on, Gordon Hayward got off to his typically hot start against the Nuggets, scoring Utah's first 9 points, and putting them up 9-2 in the first 88 seconds of the game. It felt like a slow start, that the Nuggets would surely recover from, right?
Not necessarily. Denver's players were slow to adjust to the strength Utah was displaying down low, and chose to not compete in that space for quite a while on offense. That's all well and good when your perimeter shots are falling, but... we stank. Like Greeley on a bad Thursday at the processing plant stank. Couldn't hit a bucket to save ourselves, we ended up shooting 14 of 44 (31.8%) from the floor, with a goose egg in our 10 three point attempts. Evan Fournier led the inefficiency with one of seven shooting from the floor, missing all three of his attempts beyond the arc. The Nuggets were down by 10 to a team that had also not hit a three pointer, and hadn't approached 50.
To rephrase, the Nuggets went into the locker room at half down 44-34 to the lowly and tired Jazz.
But... it was the worst of times, and then slowly it was the best of times. The coaches obviously reminded our guys of where the high-percentage shots were to be had, and the Nuggets took the game down low to a Utah team that slowly started losing gas. Utah battled valiantly, but as the Nuggets gained confidence with the scoring down low, the perimeter game finally starting catching fire, and the Nuggets made up that 10 point difference at the 4:55 mark of the 3rd quarter.
Once they closed the gap, it was a back and forth game for the next 11 minutes, with the Nuggets unable to capture their first lead of the game until the 6:50 mark of the 4th quarter. And still, the crowd was circumspect until Evan Fournier finally captured their enthusiasm on a circus shot at the 6 minute mark. As Fours drove to the basket, he got his feet tangled with two other Utah players, and he was fouled. As he fell away from the hoop just below the free throw line, he twisted back toward the hoop, flipping the ball up over his shoulder... and it fell. If you missed that shot, go find it. Or I'm betting one of the Stiffs may find us a .gif soon enough. The dam broke just in time, and the Nuggets slowly crept away from the Jazz behind a couple of monster 2nd half efforts, to be mentioned below. Final score, 101-94 Nuggets.
Kenneth Faried posted the first 20/20 game of his career, a game after Timofey Mozgov did the same, with 24 points and 21 boards on 11 of 19 shooting. Timo still had a double double with 11 and 10 respectively himself. The Manimal has been with us for a while again now, and you have to think the Nuggets may have found a combo they really like down low. Here's betting they continue to press that advantage through the last two games of the season. Randy Foye had a solid second half with 26 points, and Evan Fournier completely turned things around as well, going six of nine from the floor and three of five for 3-pointers in the second half. The maturation of what's left of this team has been a bright spot in a dark-ish season.
Quincy Miller's youth was showing tonight, in a lackluster effort after a solid last game and a half. Zero points in 14 minutes, and getting abused in the early going by Gordon Hayward... Rough night for Q.
Been a fun year writing for the wonderful Stiffs. Thanks for your kindness and patience with my learning/growing pains in writing this year. We (Denver Stiffs) are hoping to keep your attention through what will be a very important offseason for our beloved and battered Nuggets. How are we feeling, Nuggets Nation?