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Recap: Nuggets annihilate Jazz in fourth quarter, win 103-88 on Star Wars night

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The Jazz were on the second night of a back-to-back, and it showed when Denver’s defense suffocated them.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets defeated the Utah Jazz 103-88 on Saturday night. Nikola Jokic had just seven points, but he added an absurd 16 assists and 10 rebounds to go with it. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris combined for 39 points. Most important though, the Nuggets shut down Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles, who combined for just 20 points on 8/29 from the field.

Denver’s defense is legit.

The Nuggets began the game with their regular starting five, while the Jazz, aided by Donovan Mitchell, began the game with their regular five. Early, the Jazz tried to involve Jokic in every pick and roll, but the Nuggets won that battle. Through the first five minutes, Utah shot 3/9 from the field and just 1/6 from behind the three-point line. Millsap and Harris in particular did a great job bothering Gobert on his rolls to the rim. On the other end, Denver struggled with turnovers against a tough Utah defense. Jokic accumulated two turnovers and was blocked early, while Torrey Craig tried too hard to find a cutting Murray.

Denver’s offense opened up a little more when Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles, and Monte Morris entered the game. Those three represent solid spacing threats that are willing to shoot and have a reputation as shooters. Not to mention, this is fun to watch:

Jokic’s assist count rose quickly during this time. Utah’s offense opened up when Harris and Millsap went to the bench though. Both teams were evenly matched to begin this game and finished the first quarter as such, tied at 25.

Murray opened the second quarter with a pull-up three in transition, but half court points were tough to come by for the Nuggets bench. Denver scored just four points after the Murray three until Millsap returned and executed a nice post-up. Both teams executed solid defense with the benches on, but the Nuggets didn’t get any open shots during this stretch. The Jazz had a couple of opportunities but failed to execute. Denver’s starters returned and had a nice stretch scoring, albeit brief. Murray reverted to some unpleasant issues passing to Jokic, and that has turned into a full-on problem.

After that, the Jazz exerted their will defensively, helping the Jazz inch closer before the half. Derrick Favors hurt the Nuggets on short roll jumpers, while Ricky Rubio did a nice job getting to the basket and Jae Crowder shot well from outside. The Nuggets led 47-46 at half, anchored by Murray and Harris with 11 each and Jokic with seven assists.

Denver opened up the quarter by getting Jokic two post ups early, in which Denver scored both times, once by Jokic and once assisted by Jokic to a cutting Craig. Mitchell started to get going on Utah’s side though, and Quin Snyder made a quick change to go to Jae Crowder as a stretch 4. His outside shot and versatility gave Utah a shot in the arm. As Denver’s reserves came in, things didn’t really improve on either end, but Denver kept within an arm’s length of Utah, only going down 73-68 after three quarters.

To begin the fourth quarter, the Nuggets got a great three pointer from Malik Beasley, and the bench responded with some great minutes. Oh, and Mason Plumlee, who has played excellently the entire year, hit a three-pointer.

This bench unit brought the Nuggets back into the game. The energy in the Pepsi Center was waning, but made threes, tough defense, and the Plumdog Millionaire helped Denver jump out to an 86-77 lead with 6:37 left in the 4th.

At that point, the Jazz began playing Hack-a-Plumlee, and he promptly missed two free throws. Rudy Gobert came back and missed two himself, including one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Beasley hit another three in Gobert’s grill, and Denver started to get rolling. Donovan Mitchell, who exited briefly with an ankle injury, tried to come back in and gut it out, but the Nuggets just outclassed the Utah Jazz in the fourth quarter.

Denver took it to their divisional opponent, with the final score of 103-88.

What the Stiffs said to watch:

Nikola Jokic vs Utah Jazz spread pick and roll

The Jazz pick and roll handlers (Rubio, Mitchell, and Ingles) combined to shoot 11/37 tonight. Jokic was a big part of that, coming up and playing level with whoever guarded the primary handler. On the back line, Favors and Gobert combined for 24 points on 28 shooting possessions, a credit to Denver’s back line defense.

Can Denver’s starting guards get out of their shooting slumps?

They didn’t shoot perfectly, but Murray and Harris combined for 39 points on 15/29 shooting tonight. Only 2/7 from beyond the arc, but they got wherever they wanted to go against Rubio and Mitchell inside the arc.

Will the Nuggets get out and run?

Denver only had 5 total fast break points tonight, so the answer is no, but they did pump up the energy by making the Jazz work offensively. Coming off the second night of a back-to-back, Utah ran out of gas in the fourth quarter because of Denver’s intensity throughout the game. Denver didn’t have to run to tire out the Jazz. The Jazz ran themselves because they couldn’t score easy baskets.

The bench was a big part of this. In season’s past (and games past this year) Denver’s bench has ceded leads with Nikola Jokic off the floor. Now, they play with such a consistent intensity defensively that offensive struggles don’t necessarily kill the flow of the game for Denver. Tonight was a great example. Malik Beasley came up big off the bench with 12 points and 3/5 from behind the three-point line. He led the team in plus-minus as well at +20, and it seems like Denver’s bench is rounding into form.

Another thing that happened: Pepsi Center was lit

After Mason Plumlee hit a three-pointer...

Shout out to the amazing fans at Pepsi Center tonight. Give the crowd an assist on the first divisional win of the season for the Nuggets.

8-1....ohhhh baby.