At first it looked like this would be a statement game from the Denver Nuggets as they came out guns blazing on their way to a healthy 25 point lead at half behind insane three-point shooting. Utah, trying to defend its 11-game winning streak, never gave up though and made it a game behind a strong third quarter. In the end, Nikola Jokic’s 47 points were too much as Denver pulled away. It was pretty, then ugly, but it was enough for Denver to claim a 128-117 win over their division rivals.
Interestingly, the Jazz moved Gobert (your DPOY?) off of Jokic to start the game, instead giving the call to Bojan Bogdanovic first then to Derrick Favors. That went about as perfectly for Denver as it could have gone. Jokic and the Nuggets offense picked Utah apart in the first quarter, going on an 18-4 run at one point. Jokic cooked literally anyone the Jazz threw at him (including Gobert), scoring 22 points in the first quarter alone. The Joker’s hot hand was contagious - Denver shot 8-for-8 from three in the first quarter.
The onslaught continued in the second quarter as the Nuggets were still lights. Denver shot 15-for-17 from three in the first half - 88%!!! And the Nuggets held a 79-54 at the break, 33 of which belonged to Jokic.
Unfortunately, Denver’s third quarter struggles continued and it wasn’t just the law of averages catching up to them. The Nuggets sorely missed Gary Harris who left the game with injury. Without him, they were legitimately awful as the Jazz clawed back from down 28 to single digits. Michael Porter Jr. was by far the worst player on the floor as his defensive miscues left guys like Jordan Clarkson and Bogdanovic open pretty much his entire time on the floor. To make things worse, Denver’s offense dried up without Jokic on the floor, but when he was out there the bleeding stopped as Nikola wisely drew fouls to get to the line.
Thankfully, JaMychal Green and Facu Campazzo showed up in the fourth. Green opened the quarter on a 5-0 run of his own to extend the lead and Campazzo made several key plays on both end of the floor. Once Jokic and Murray came back in the lead stabilized and the Nuggets put it away.
Jokic tied his career high with 47 points along with 11 rebounds and 5 assists. Denver finished with 5 players in double-figures, including Will Barton who had a really good game shooting 5-for-6 from three and finishing with 6 assists. I’m normally in the camp of MPJ should be starting, but Barton was miles ahead of MPJ on both ends of the floor this afternoon. MPJ is still a high risk, high reward player and today his downside was glaringly obvious.
Denver improves to 12-8 and hosts Mason Plumlee and the Detroit Pistons tomorrow on the back-to-back.