Our Denver Nuggets came to Salt Lake City tonight, where they’d only won one game since Hector was a not-yet-fully-grown domesticated canine. Aaron Gordon sat this one out, so Christian Braun was moved to the starting lineup. The Jazz, in the meantime, were missing six rotation players, including Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson, and John Collins. They started two rookies in the backcourt tonight. I’m going to be honest with you here: I follow the Nuggets very closely, but don’t pay a lot of attention to any of the other teams, so I had never even heard of a single player in the Jazz starting 5 tonight. I was hoping for a blowout, and at some moments it looked like we’d get that, but it ended up being something of a hard fought win for the Nuggets, 111-95. Here are some of the notes I took during the game, as I battled to keep the game streaming on my various devices.


First Quarter

The Nuggets’ offense looked great to start. Christian Braun hit a couple of 3s, Jokic looked set to absolutely dominate, with nobody on the Jazz seeming like they had a prayer of bothering him. The Jazz took their first timeout less than three minutes into the game, as the Nuggets were generating turnovers and getting points in transition. But the Nuggets did struggle early on to get defensive rebounds. But there was some good defense, too. How about that great block by Jamal Murray on Luka Samanic?


Jokic seemed curiously inaccurate on point-blank layups in this quarter. Nevertheless, the Nuggets led 25-10 when Murray took his first rest with just over 5 minutes remaining in the quarter. The Jazz’s defense really looked atrocious to start the game. Talen Horton-Tucker subbed in for them after a timeout, and looked more like an actual professional basketball player than anyone else on their team up to that point. Jokic took his first rest with less than a minute left in the quarter, and the Nuggets were leading 34-17.


Second Quarter

Zeke Nnaji got a couple of good baskets early on. Otherwise, Michael Porter Jr. and the bench unit started to give up some of the lead. The offense struggled, as nobody could seem to get a good look; on defense they were fouling and giving up points. David Adelman called a timeout at 8:09 with the lead cut to 11. (Where was Malone at this moment? If the announcers explained his temporary absence, I missed it.)


Jokic came back in around the 5:30 mark and hit a 3. Braun hit his 3rd 3. But it seemed like the Nuggets could’ve used Gordon to go against Talen Horton-Tucker, who was playing with a lot of energy and confidence. The Jazz just kept hanging around, and cut the lead to 8 at 2:36, prompting another Nuggets timeout.


Before the half ended, Jokic made his 670th assist for the season, a new career high. But  Horton-Tucker 3 cut the lead to 5 around the 2 minute mark, making the score 56-51.Thankfully, a late burst keyed by Jokic and Murray pushed lead back to 12. The score was 65-53 at the half.


Third Quarter

Ugh, even with the Nuggets’ starters on the floor, the Jazz cut the lead to 6 a few minutes in. The Nuggets managed to stay afloat with some timely defense. Murray got his second block of the night:

The offense looked better in transition, like the fun alley oop from Braun to Peyton Watson.

But then Horton-Tucker came back in for the Jazz with a little over 3 minutes remaining in the quarter, and jeez, look out. The lead was cut to 4 at 1:57, and then at the 1:22 mark, after what felt like the millionth 3-pointer of the night by Horton-Tucker, the score was 80-77 Nuggets. Our guys went on a quick little run to push the lead back to 10, but then Horton-Tucker hit another 3 to make it 87-80 at the end of the third. I felt at the time like he was unconscious or something, but checking the box score now, he was just 4-8 from 3 for the night.


Fourth Quarter

The Nuggets started the final period with Nnaji, Reggie Jackson, Watson, Justin Holiday, and Michael Porter Jr. on the floor. Early on in the quarter, Watson got an epic block on Horton-Tucker. In hindsight, I’m going to say that was what finally cooled the guy off. The Jazz kept hanging around, but the Nuggets kept managing to hold them off. There was a clock stoppage for a foul around the 8 minute mark, but Jokic remained on the bench, seated between Jalen Pickett and Hunter Tyson, happily singing to himself. On the one hand, I was a little worried about how the game was going to turn out, but on the other hand, seeing him look so utterly unperturbed was kind of reassuring. He did come back in at the 6:57 mark, with the Nuggets leading 94-84. Shortly thereafter, he scored his 2,000th point of the season, the second time in his career he’s achieved that feat. Then the Jamal Murray show got going. He rained a bunch of backbreaking 3’s on the Jazz, and pretty much put the game away. Utah called a timeout at 4:10 with the score being 104-90. The score ballooned to 108-90 after Jokic powered his way to a couple of buckets, and the bench was emptied shortly after that. The final score was 111-95.


Final Thoughts

This game got pretty uncomfortable at any number of moments, but the Nuggets took the lead on that opening 3 by Braun, and never surrendered it. If Porter had a better shooting night, if Jokic had decided to impose himself more on offense, if the Nuggets had made more of their free throws, this might’ve been a blowout the whole night. But as others have observed, that’s not really how it usually goes with this team. We’ll take this road win any day, especially with the Timberwolves and Thunder winning their games tonight, and most especially in Utah.  Here are some numbers to ponder:


  • The Nuggets have won 55 games in a regular season for the second time in franchise history (the other occurrence was that 2012-13 season, where they ended up 57-25).
  • Jokic set a new career record tonight for total points scored in a season, but I didn’t catch the exact number, and google searches are only telling me his per-game average – but anyway, the announcers noted the record before the game was over when he got to 2005, and he scored at least a few more points after that.
  • Michael Malone now has 421 victories as the coach of the Nuggets. That’s two behind George Karl (423), and 11 behind Doug Moe (432).

Up next: the Minnesota Timberwolves in Denver tomorrow night. Huge game! Go Nuggets!