The Denver Nuggets were looking to bounce back after two embarrassing losses to the Utah Jazz and they very nearly did. Unfrotunately for them Donovan Mitchell once again proved to be unstoppable and outside of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic Denver didn’t get much in the way of help on offense. Really, it came down to execution, or lack thereof, on defense for Denver. When it came time to get stops they couldn’t and Utah grabs a 129-127 win and a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Coach Michael Malone made a change to his starting lineup by inserting Jerami Grant and Monte Morris in place of Michael Porter Jr and Torrey Craig. That change, or the fact that the Nuggets were fresh off getting blown out twice, injected some energy in the game early on but Utah was still executing on offense and had the early lead. Grant in particular was giving Denver good minutes from the jump. Jokic also looked the best he has all series, asserting himself early and inside on offense which allowed Denver to quickly flip the script and get the lead for themselves. When the reserves came in though Utah and Mitchell found their groove. Aided by the ability to get Porter switched onto Mitchell, the Jazz were able to take back the lead briefly. The teams traded buckets down the stretch with MPJ finishing off the quarter with a putback dunk to give Denver a 36-33 lead.
The Nuggets kept the pressure on early, pushing the lead up to six, but Jordan Clarkson heated up and kept the game in check. Murray held off Utah and Clarkson as the quarter progressed which allowed Denver to hold on to a slim margin. Midway through the Nuggets hit a bit of a lull and Mitchell and Clarkson took advantage but it was Paul Millsap providing the response for Denver to keep them in front. With the quarter drawing down Denver started to cool off. Utah made a run to once again get close but to Denver's credit they always found a way to just barely keep ahead. The first half closed with the Nuggets up 65-64.
Mitchell picked up right where he left off in the first half, attacking the Nuggets defense at will. Luckily for Denver Jokic and Murray were up to the task and kept things tight. Conley started getting into the action for Utah which helped them gain the lead near the midway point of the quarter. The Jazz opened up a 12-5 run on the backs of Mitchell, Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert and just like that the Utah lead was up to eight. Joker was pushing back to keep the Nuggets within striking distance but Mitchell was once again targeting MPJ on defense. Clarkson nailed a pair of threes in the final minutes to keep the Jazz lead up and they went into the fourth up 97-89.
Denver opened the final frame scrambling on defense and giving up a Conley three to bring Utah’s lead to double digits. Things started to look dire but Murray was not going to let the game go quietly. He caught fire and responded almost single handedly. Unfortunately no one else was coming along with Murray on offense and Denver was still struggling to get stops on the other end which kept the Jazz lead around ten. The Nuggets started chipping away, getting threes to Utah’s twos and pulled within four with about five minutes to go. Murray nailed another three to pull the Nuggets within one and they had a chance to take the lead but fumbled it away and gave up a clear path foul for a four point swing the other way. Denver got back within two with two minutes to go and it seemed apparent they were just going to have to hit threes instead of twos if they wanted to win because they couldn’t keep Mitchell from the basket. With under a minute to go the Jazz had a two point lead and Mitchell at the free throw line. He converted both free throws, the referees completely blew a foul call on Gobert on the other end and it was done. Jazz get another win and take the series lead three games to one.
Best matchup: Donovan Mitchell vs Jamal Murray
It was definitely the star guards who provided the juice in this one. Mitchell eclipsed the fifty point mark again and Murray hit it at the buzzer. In the end though it was Mitchell who got the last laugh. Murray had one of his very best, if not his very best, games as a pro and set a new record for single game scoring by a Nugget in a playoff game. It’s a shame that it will end up coming in a loss. At the end of the day the story continues to be Denver’s inability to stop Mitchell. He flat out can not drive to his left and yet even with that fact the Nuggets flat out just continue to be baffled by him. Really frustrating but give credit where credit is due, Mitchell has far and away been the best player in this series.
Main thing I noticed: Garbage night from the refs
I’m not a huge blame the refs guy and that’s not the reason the Nuggets lost. Utah shot way more free throws than Denver and a lot of that is on the style of play each team elected to use in this game....but come on man. The Nuggets went a span of 25 game minutes without a single free throw. Somehow Utah didn’t foul a single Nuggets shooter for two full quarters, absolutely absurd. The Gobert moving screens were in full force once again. Clarkson absolutely threw an air punch in the direction of an official after a call he didn’t like and didn’t get a technical. To top it off, with Denver down four, under a minute to go and with the ball, Gobert clearly did not stay straight up and came down on Murray with his arms and the refs swallowed their whistle. It’s really disappointing when officials can have such pivotal moments in the game and even more disappointing when they get it wrong in the moment.
Closing thought: this sucks
That’s it. That’s the thought.