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Recap: Denver Nuggets pull off a win for the ages, beat Utah Jazz 98-95

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It’s perhaps the craziest circumstances I’ve ever seen produce a win

Denver Nuggets v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets could barely field a team to play their second game in as many days. Down four players to injury and another three to a pending trade the Nuggets had only seven players available. Only two of them, Nikola Jokic and Vlatko Cancar, were over 6’6” tall. Another, Jamal Murray, was playing at around 75% on a bum ankle. Gary Harris could not hit a shot, not a single one, and yet it is the Nuggets who emerged victorious against their main division rival the Utah Jazz. In Utah. On the second night of a back to back. Incredible win.

Michael Malone went with Monte Morris/Jamal Murray/Gary Harris/Torrey Craig/Nikola Jokic as his starting group and they kept Utah working early on, they didn’t allow a Jazz basket until the 9:30 mark when Donovan Mitchell hit a three. Denver got up 7-3 before the Jazz responded through the pick and roll with Rudy Gobert who scored six straight for Utah. They flipped the script midway through the quarter on offense and started hitting their outside shooters instead. Mike Conley canned a couple of threes while Bojan Bogdanovic chipped in. Before you knew it Utah was up nine. P.J. Dozier gave the Nuggets solid minutes off the bench with a nice drive for a bucket and then a great pocket pass to Jokic for another bucket but Utah remained hot from the three point line. Denver’s back court put together a mini-run as the quarter was coming to a close, pulling within four, but naturally Georges Niang knocked down a three with one second to go. Utah led after one 32-25.

Murray and Jokic led the way to start the second quarter with a pair of buckets which kept pace with Jordan Clarkson who was giving the Nuggets trouble once again. Denver’s defense clamped down finally to fuel a run behind Jokic who had his shot going and quickly was up to a dozen points while the Jazz lead was down by just one. Denver finally took the lead with little over six minutes to go in the half behind a classic Joker no-look pass to Murray that was just extra silly. Unfortunately the Nuggets renewed three point defense didn’t last. Utah went back to knocking down outside shots and took the lead once again. If it wasn’t for Nikola and Murray the game would have been a complete laugher, they accounted for thirty-two of Denver’s forty-nine points in the first half. Utah closed out the half strong to take an eight point lead into the locker room.

Jokic and Murray continued to be the only thing Denver had on offense (Harris was having a really rough night) and it continued to be just less than enough. Denver got within three after Joker found Murray for a wide open three but Utah responded and pushed back ahead. Conley was back to knocking down threes while the Nuggets looked like their energy was about out. Utah’s lead got up to fifteen before Craig and Murray hit back to back threes. After a timeout the Nuggets kept the heat on and and extend their run to ten points before Mitchell got a runner to stop Denver’s streak. Utah clung to the lead while Denver still essentially had only Murray and Jokic providing the offense. Utah had just enough from Mitchell (with an assist from the refs) to stay in front but the Jazz lead was just three going into the final quarter.

Monte Morris finally gave Denver some much needed scoring outside of Jokic and Murray, who were on the bench, which got Denver their first lead of the night. It wouldn’t last. Mitchell finished an alley-oop after a Clarkson three, then Gobert found himself wide open under the basket for an easy dunk. Gobert made the most of Denver’s lack of size to push the Jazz lead back up to nine before the Nuggets responded. Craig knocked down a three at the five minute mark and Denver trailed by just five. Jokic secured another triple double with a nice lead out pass to Morris then hit a mid range jumper to get Denver within three with the game coming to a close. Denver’s free throw shooting was killing them, and it was keeping them agonizingly close to taking the lead but enough to get over the top. With a minute to go Jokic went to the Sombor Shuffle to beat the shot clock and finally take a one point lead. He had a chance to make it a three point game after Denver corralled a defensive rebound but missed a floater leaving Utah with the ball down one and thirteen seconds to go. Conley forced a tough layup, Harris sunk two free throws on the other end and Bogdanovic missed a three at the buzzer. Denver gets a win that is hard to describe how incredible it truly is.

Best matchup: Jamal Murray vs. Mike Conley

Denver Nuggets v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Murray was an absolute solider tonight. There was no doubt that he is still hurting from twisting his ankle and isn’t close to 100%. As the game progressed there were times he was noticeably limping. Despite all of that he gutted out a thirty-one point game that included 4-9 shooting from three. You can’t say enough about his performance. On the other side Conley was a huge factor for the Jazz and even topped Murray’s three point shooting by going 5-9. It hasn’t been the dream pairing everyone thought it was going to be with Conley and the Jazz but tonight he certainly looked like a player who was healthy and in his groove.

Main thing I noticed: The two man bench did as good as you could hope

Vlatko Cancar and P.J. Dozier were the Nuggets only reserves tonight and while neither blew the doors off they gave Denver some big minutes. Dozier drew a huge charge late in the game to go along with three steals. Though he wasn’t scoring his impact was undeniable and it was just another example of how he is a player who belongs in the NBA. For Vlatko it was the first meaningful minutes of the season. He ended up playing seventeen overall and gave Denver some much needed energy. While he certainly looked like a guy playing his first real minutes in the NBA at times, you also saw what we have always seen from Vlatko at every level. He’s not going to be a guy who gets plays drawn up for him but he makes impacts in other ways, primarily on defense. He had more than a few stellar defensive possessions (and some where he isn’t used to how fouls are called in the NBA) and was strong on the boards. The stat sheet won’t show the full performance but the Nuggets got a gutsy performance out of their very limited depth.

Final thought: what can you say?

It truly is hard to describe how amazing this win is. I cannot think of another time in my nearly thirty years of following this team that they had the odds so stacked against them, and somehow they pulled it off. It’s truly a special moment in this franchise’s history. No it’s not a Finals bid or even a playoff win, but it speaks to the character of this team and that character is something so remarkable that nothing like it has been seen here before. The way Murray and Jokic basically carried the team to a victory, the absolutely absurd triple-double Jokic had, this team lives for the challenge almost as much as they live for the triumph. Tonight’s win will go a long way in endearing fans even more to this unique group of players.