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Recap: the Nuggets sleep through the third quarter, lose blowout to Jazz 100-84

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A 24-0 run in the third quarter ended Denver's hopes of winning this game and turned fan appreciation night into an eyesore

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets had that cold quarter that they have been famous for this season, where a decent game turns into a laugher.  Once again it was the third quarter where the Jazz went on an astonishing 24-0 run to finish the period and outscored the Nuggets 34-15 en route to a 100-84 victory.  Trey Lyles had a career-high 22 points replacing an injured Derrick Favors, who was a game-time scratch. Rudy Gobert put up a 16 point, 14 rebound and 5 block night and every Jazz starter was in double figures.

The Denver Nuggets talked about trying to win their last home game and they even had the lead a few minutes into the third quarter before that scoring disaster hit. Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic both scored 19 points for Denver, but the ineffectiveness of too many players on offense (Jusuf Nurkic shooting 2-for-11, 43 combined minutes for Augustin-Toupane-Sampson with just two points total) made victory impossible even with a good defensive effort - which this was not in the second half. Mudiay and Gary Harris also sported headbands together for the first time this year.  Burn those headbands fellas.  Get superstitious.

The first half of this game was fun to watch, at least.  Nurkic missed the first two shots of the game to start a theme early, though the Nuggets were deliberate about feeding hom on the block.  He had too much respect for Gobert and was fading and rushing everything. Trey Lyles hit a 3 to cap a 10-0 Jazz run and give them 14-4 lead. Nurkic had 8 shots in 9 minutes of game time and missed them all, but Mudiay hit a three when Denver's starting frontcourt took a seat to cut it to 14-7 to stop that 10-0 run.  Arthur bricked a three, but hit his next, and Mudiay threaded the needle to Arthur on a beautiful fastbreak to make it 19-12:

Denver was closing out too hard on the three and got cut up inside early (something they stopped doing as much later and then Utah made everything from outside).  The Nuggets forced a couple of 24-second violations later in the quarter though as they found their defensive footing briefly. Harris made his money as a slasher in the first and a Lauvergne jumper closed it to 24-22 with Denver on an 8-1 scoring run, but a Gobert dunk at the end helped Utah keep a 26-22 lead after one.

Jokic and Lauvergne were the two bigs to start the second, and Barton finished a tough bank drive for the first bucket of the quarter. Denver continued its success when pushing the pace and Jokic's sprinting dunk tied it at 26.  The Nuggets took their first lead at 29-28 on Barton's free throw that capped a 15-5 run.  The Jazz started the quarter 1-of-8 with their bench players before Raul Neto hit a long jumper. A Toupane block led to a Joffrey layup and a 37-30 Denver lead, but Rodney Hood hit a three for the Jazz followed by two threes from Lyles and Utah took the lead back in a minute of game time.  Threes from Jokic and Mudiay made it 48-43 Denver, but Utah's 5-0 run to end the quarter made it 48-all at halftime... and then 47-48 after the officials removed a point from Denver on a three-point shot they turned into a two.

Even the third quarter didn't start badly.  Jokic opened with a nice drop step and a runner to get Denver the lead back as there was a Balkan Towers pick-and-roll for a hoop, then a strip by Nurkic on Gobert and a Harris jumper that made it 53-48. Heyward hit a 3 to bring it within 2, but Mudiay ripped another 3 in response.  And then the drought began. The  Jazz raised their physicality and hit three after three.  Mudiay and Barton turned the ball over on back-to-back plays for easy layups that made it 74-62 Utah - and the run was nowhere near over. It was airballs and missed layups by Denver while Utah took every three and made every paint bucket, winding up with a 24-0 run by the Jazz to finish the third.

At that point the fourth quarter was completely unnecessary.  Trey Lyles got that career-high, Gobert destroyed Denver again, and nobody could stop Heyward. The Jazz showed they have a fierce desire to make the playoffs, even with their stumbles over the past week, while Denver got punched in the mouth in the second half and showed they still don't know how to punch back.  That's one of Malone's main tasks for next year: instilling mental toughness in a bunch of young players so that they don't let quarters snowball on them like this.


Balkan verdict:  Incomplete.

Nurkic had an abominable scoring game, starting off 0-for-9 while rushing everything against Gobert.  As I said on Twitter:
He was very good on defense however with several blocks, and his passing combos with Jokic made for some pretty plays, like this one:

Jokic started slow but found his footing as the game went on and seemed weirdly less-hesitant against the Jazz big men than Nurkic.  Nikola had 19 points and 11 boards for a very nice double-double on a terrible night.  The problem with having both centers on the roster out there at the same time cropped up, as Jokic played 38 minutes.  The whole starting lineup was massively outscored by the Jazz, who played their starters almost exclusively for three quarters. The Jazz starters scored 78 of Utah's first 86 points, and defense-first players like Toupane and Sampson couldn't do anything on defense to make up for their lack of scoring punch.

If Denver intends to give Jokic and Nurkic time together, even 10 minutes a game, then a shot-blocking backup 4 and a defensive switchblade who can guard the perimeter as a wing would be a huge help.  Joffrey has echoes of Hickson in his defense, and Faried is not strong on that side of the ball either (though he did not play tonight).  If Denver would stop this as well it would be nice:


Stronger schemes and a more finely-tuned personnel grouping would help shore up some deficiencies.  With a healthy roster Denver could have been competing with Utah for that last playoff spot... but as tonight showed, Utah has a much more cohesive unit out there that keeps handing Denver its head whenever the two tangle.  Some of that is simply a youth issue on Denver's part, but some of it definitely is not.

Experimentation is fun, but Tim Connelly has at least two draftpicks this year as well as some trade pieces to use if he wants to.  Refining the roster will be as crucial to Denver's future as the growth of all the kids over the summer.