The Denver Nuggets tried to keep the momentum of their homestand when they took to the road to face the Utah Jazz, but the Jazz were angrier, healthier and better as Denver went down by a big margin 108-83. Denver’s starters combined for just 23 points and were blown out in the first and the third quarters. The bench fought back in the first half behind Jamal Murray’s game-high 23 points but ran out of answers in the second. The Jazz looked hungry for a win after dropping four straight and getting blown out in Denver earlier in the week, and George Hill’s return to the lineup provided them with both energy and a great performance. Denver simply had no answers without Gallinari and with a tired team.
Juancho Hernangomez got the start in place of Danilo Gallinari, who sat out the contest with a thigh bruise/possible strain. That made Will Barton the only starting shooter and was an ominous portent. The Jazz opened with a pair of made threes, trying to set the tone. After a pair of and-one, the Jazz were up 12-0 and showing all kinds of energy. The Nuggets were unable to create movement on offense and missed their first 3 free throws and 5 shots. Chandler came off the bench first and eventually put up 13 points in the quarter, but an 0-for-8 start from the field by the Nuggets led to easy scores by Utah and a 19-3 lead. Denver's starters (other than Hernangomez) were pulled with more than 7 minutes to go. The Nuggets kept grinding, getting to the line and getting threes from Darrell Arthur and Wilson Chandler to cut it to 29-17. Wasted possessions and poor defense down the stretch were offset by a blizzard of three-point attempts that left the Jazz up 36-27 after missing just 6 shots in the quarter.
Jokic snagged the first bucket of the second quarter for the Nuggets, but the Jazz started the quarter on a 7-2 run. The Denver starters came back in but kept bricking.
The first bucket by a Denver starter came with 7:45 left to go in the half after a Nurkic block led to a Mudiay layup and a 43-36 deficit for Denver. The Jazz finally started missing and Denver put together a 12-0 run, punctuated by a Hernangomez block and Barton free throws to pull to 43-41. The Nuggets had the energy in the second and didn't have their first turnover for 27 minutes, but they couldn't quite take the lead back and trailed 53-47 at halftime.
Chandler: 13 points, 6 rebounds— Chris Dempsey (@chrisadempsey) November 24, 2016
Murray: 11 points, 3/3 3-pointers
Faried: 7 points, 8 rebounds#Nuggets
Faried actually had 8 points and 7 rebounds, but they were all crucial to Denver’s recovery in the second quarter. The same starting unit came out to start the third, though - which made the second half begin the same as the first. Nurkic had a two minute stretch where he blew another close shot (1-for-8 for the game at that point), missed a couple of defensive assignments and got called for an offensive foul. He got benched with his fourth foul and the Jazz went up 60-47 on an and-one from George Hill to cap a 10-0 run. Jokic stayed on the bench while Faried played center and the Jazz attacked the paint with impunity. Neither starters nor reserves could buy a bucket and the Nuggets fell behind by 20, 70-50, with just 3 points scored in 6+ minutes.
First field goal of the third quarter was that shot by Murray at 5:49 in the third— Chris Dempsey (@chrisadempsey) November 24, 2016
Murray made a pair of threes and Arthur snagged another to try to drag Denver back into contention, but the Jazz defense was stellar and Denver's was far less so. Denver starters had 17 points through 3 and Denver scored just 14 in the third and trailed 84-61.
Malik Beasley made an appearance to start the fourth to form a rookie trifecta on the court, showing just how poor the offense had been and how deep Malone was going searching for it. It made the fourth quarter garbage time for Denver even if Utah left its starters in for the first 6+ minutes of the quarter, at which point Denver trailed 99-75.
Denver cannot run out there with one-shooter lineups. The Jazz are an excellent defensive team, but the Jazz and the Bulls both did the same thing to Denver: pack the paint and let Denver try to drive if they wanted to. Denver did want to, but its starters struggled horrifically against that scheme in both games. It leads to confusion and tentative player movement, and a stagnant Denver offense is not a scoring offense. Before the game I thought Denver might take the opportunity to go small on the outside, break out some three-guard lineups and try to get movement and scoring. Denver went the other way and the bench couldn't drag Denver's feet out of the fire another time. Some of it could have been Gallinari's absence, or it being the third game in four nights, but schematic and rotational approaches did not help.
FINISH. If Denver is going to drive the lane regardless of the defense, then at least finish at the rim. Nurkic, Mudiay and Barton combined to go 2-for-22 through 3 quarters, with the majority of those shots in the paint. It was ridiculous. Some of that can be credited to Gobert, but if you are going to be that scared of a shot-blocker then maybe don't waste all your shots in his wingspan.
That Murray-led bench was insane again. At least from a scoring perspective they were. Wilson Chander kept Denver in it in the first half with 13 points, but ran out of gas. Murray tossed in fire from all over the court. Darrell Arthur even hit a couple of threes. Murray led the Nuggets in minutes but asking for that to happen every game is a losing proposition. That kind of bench capability is a great weapon, but it shouldn't be the main one in the arsenal. Denver has to get its starting rotation worked out, even if that means weakening the bench. Clawing back from 15 and 20 point deficits isn't something you can put on the second unit.
All in all it was what should be expected from a matchup between an angry, rested and more-healthy Jazz against a worn-down Nuggets team missing its best player and best wing defender. That doesn't make the pill easier to swallow though.