The Denver Nuggets had a massive challenge on Thursday night with the Utah Jazz coming to town, winners of 19 of their last 23 games. It would take a herculean effort from several guys to defeat such a strong Jazz team.
They got it. The Nuggets won 106-100, anchored by a strong Nikola Jokic performance. The Joker scored 28 points, dished 10 assists, and scored 11 in a row to ice the game in clutch game. Torrey Craig was also huge, holding Mitchell to just 4 points on 1-of-12 shooting and four turnovers. Five Nuggets were in double figures at the end of the night, and they won the game with some real strong defense throughout.
Replacing Gary Harris in the starting lineup, who sat out this game due to personal reasons, was Monte Morris. The Nuggets ran out Morris, Will Barton, Torrey Craig, Jerami Grant, and Nikola Jokic in the starting lineup, and through the first few minutes, with Jokic doing a lot on both ends. At the end of his first stretch, Jokic had already created five assists and two steals, though he struggled to score over the mountain that is Rudy Gobert. Craig also gave some strong contributions on both ends, limiting Donovan Mitchell’s production and going 4-for-4 from the field offensively. Even though Denver played really well defensively, a couple of late possessions and free throws for the Jazz gave them a 23-21 lead over Denver.
In the second quarter, the disparity between threes for both teams became apparent. At one point, the Jazz had hit 7-of-12 from three while the Nuggets had attempted just four themselves. That discrepancy matters, and it didn’t get better with Jokic out there. He hit some shots individually, but Denver struggled overall. Fortunately, Will Barton helped bring Denver back a little with some good finishes and a nice pull-up three, and even though Denver was down by as many as 11 points in the quarter, Thrill kept Denver in it. On the other end, Torrey Craig held Mitchell to zero points and two turnovers in the first half, limiting the damage done. Denver was down 48-43 at the half.
At the beginning of the third quarter, the Nuggets looked like things were slipping away, but some strong creation from Jokic and Barton offensively, as well as a three from Grant, kept the Nuggets within striking distance. It wasn’t exactly an offensive explosion, and Denver repeatedly settling for midrange moon shots over Gobert wasn’t exactly encouraging, but they kept things close. MPJ hit a pull-up three...and then he hit another three, then P.J. Dozier hit a buzzer-beating three at the end of the third, and suddenly, the Nuggets were up 76-70 at the end of the third.
Denver kept the momentum going in the fourth, and even when the Jazz went back to Gobert, the Nuggets spaced the floor and made him less important offensively, with Grant playing the center spot and hitting some important shots. The Nuggets got some important contributions from everyone here, with Porter scoring and rebounding, Beasley hitting a three, and Barton/Morris running the show. When Jokic returned, he helped put the game away. Jordan Clarkson made things interesting late, putting up some absurd shots and making every jumper imaginable, but Denver stayed ahead with clutch Jokic shots of their own.
What things we said to watch:
Denver’s starting lineup woes played out in a variety of ways, and the Nuggets had a good thing going with Barton handling the ball and Craig guarding Mitchell throughout the game. Mitchell finished the game with an atrocious performance. Credit to Craig for that.
Nikola Jokic vs Rudy Gobert was a fun battle throughout the entire game. Both guys did what they do best, Jokic showcasing his jumper and passing acumen and Gobert walling off the paint on both ends. Jokic was forced to make some tough shots, but once he got this shot to go, the Jazz really broke.
used to think his game was a tragedy. but now i realize, it’s a comedy. pic.twitter.com/O9XFABk2bJ— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) January 31, 2020
This was a Gut Check game for Denver, and they absolutely delivered. So many guys stepped up in this one. Once again, Torrey Craig was brilliant, Barton had some big plays, as did MPJ. This team climbed the mountain to win this one, and they knocked down the Stifle Tower.