The Utah Jazz came into tonight with a three game losing streak and tired legs on the second half of a back to back and it was fairly prevalent. They would struggle to convert jump shots and their slow start would dig a hole that they couldn’t climb tout of. The Denver Nuggets, who were well rested, got big performances from Wilson Chandler and Jusuf Nurkic and got contributions all around in what was a fairly sloppy affair. A win’s a win though and the Nuggets surely will take the 105-91 victory they earned tonight.
The game opened up with a good sign for the Nuggets, Will Barton connecting on a three point attempt for Denver’s first points of the game which they followed with a beautiful pass from Danilo Gallinari to Nurkic on the pick and roll for an easy flush. The Jazz meanwhile opened the game looking like a team who got in late last night. There wasn’t a lot of movement on offense and they settled for jumpers too often which were coming up just short. The game in general was slow moving to start, neither team was looking to push the pace often or converting at a high rate on offense. In fact as the first quarter passed the halfway point the score was 9-5 Nuggets. Despite Utah's struggles, Denver’s turnover problem reared it’s head early which kept them from putting the Jazz away at the get go. The Nuggets bench (see: Chandler) provided a little scoring punch as the quarter closed and Denver used an 11-3 run to get a ten point lead after one.
Chandler kept his hot shooting going as the second quarter opened, converting on another three point attempt. Otherwise though the second quarter started as a repeat of the first with neither team converting their jump shots. Utah was shooting an abysmal 24% from the field and the Nuggets were still below average at 44%. Gallo checked back in for Chandler at the 7:45 mark after Ill Will provided virtually the only offense for Denver at that point in the quarter. The Nuggets finally appeared to get out of their funk on offense as a team after that, quickly rattling off an 8-2 run. Nikola Jokic in particular was able to get his offensive game going and was in double figures scoring in a matter of moments. Much like Chandler though, coach Malone swapped out Jokic just as he was getting going and brought back in Nurkic who, to coaches credit, immediately made Jeff Whithey look like a mere mortal with a vicious spin move in the post that led to an easy dunk. Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward were keeping the Jazz within striking distance,tallying nine and eleven first half points respectively, but the Nuggets centers were overpowering the Jazz’s backups as Rudy Gobert was in early foul trouble and Denver held a twelve point lead at half.
Barton opened the second half with the Nuggets first points, just like he did the first half and he followed a driving floater with a hustle and one (which he did not convert) to get the Denver lead stretched to sixteen. The Jazz quickly switched to a smaller lineup and went on a 7-0 run to get Denver’s lead back below double digits. In response coach Malone went to his ace in the hole, Chandler, and that quickly registered four points for Denver as Wilson reached 15 for the game with over 7 minutes remaining in the third. The Jazz weren’t about to go silently though, Gobert started to get some easy looks at the rim for dunks, including a mega poster on Jokic and Hayward also found his scoring touch. The Nuggets played just enough defense and got just enough Wilson Chandler to maintain their lead though and the third quarter wrapped up with Denver up 76-63.
The Nuggets opened the fourth quarter with an interesting lineup, one that featured Jamal Murray, Jameer Nelson and Alonzo Gee, which didn’t give them a lot of options on offense. Luckily the continued offensive struggles of the Jazz and some timely three point shooting from Murray weathered the lineup storm until Faried and Gallo could check back into the game. The threes also got Murray’s confidence up, as was very evident when he converted a beautiful reverse layup (couldn’t convert the and one portion of it though). Nurkic followed that up with a fast break layup and then Gallo had a nice dunk and it was starting to become evident that the Jazz were running out of gas. To their credit, the hung around as long as they could but as the final quarter passed four minutes to go Denver's lead had expanded to fifteen. After the Jazz once again failed to cover Murray from beyond the three point line coach Quin Snyder waived the white flag and started checking in the subs. Murray continued to knock down shots from long range as Denver would have no trouble closing out garbage time to earn the victory.
Best match up: Denver’s centers against Jeff Whithey
Poor Withey, he simply had no shot tonight. Despite matching Nurkic in height, he could not do so in strength and the Bosnian Beast well...beasted all night long in the paint. Jokic also had success, consistently getting position deep in the paint and using his soft touch to convert at the rim. Tonight’s game highlights one of the issues for the Jazz which is depth at the center spot. With Derrick Favors missing extended time if Utah gets in a spot like they did tonight where Gobert is dealing with foul trouble then they are going to have trouble stopping anyone inside. Nurkic and Jokic are good, don’t get me wrong, but being matched up against Whithey makes them look like superstars. Meanwhile, once Gobert was able to get back in the game he abused Jokic a bit. Utah just is a one center team right now.
Main thing I noticed: Will Barton is not 100%
It was good to get Will back out on the court but it’s easy to tell his ankle isn’t all the way back yet. He had a couple of nice makes but most of his shots were left clanging off the rim and he shot just 33% from the field. This mainly looked to be attributable to the fact that Barton just didn’t quite have that explosive first step and also that he seemed to be lacking a bit of leg strength as his shots mostly were falling short. It’s the first game back for him in about three weeks so nothing to be concerned about, but still important to note that while Barton is back, he hasn’t recaptured the form that made him a sixth man of the year candidate last season.
Closing thought: Wilson Chandler is a beast
Fourth straight game where Ill Will was arguably the best player in a Nuggets uniform (and there’s not much of an argument for anyone else). Denver didn’t secure the win Friday night against the Toronto Raptors but if they had it would have been mainly because of Chandler’s stellar play. Tonight was no different. Every time the Jazz started to mount a comeback and go on a run, it was Chandler who stopped the bleeding and got the Nuggets points. It’s early, and I state this blindly without looking at the stats of any other bench player in the association, but it’s hard to see who would be a better sixth man of the year candidate right now than Chandler.
Boxscore via ESPN.com