The Denver Nuggets got up early on the Utah Jazz and stayed there the whole game, winning every quarter and finishing with 31 points in the fourth to take the game 107-83. It was a team effort, with 13 / 7 / 5 from Jokic (before his untimely ejection on a flagrant foul), 16 points from Trey Lyles, and 37 / 10 / 7 from Gary Harris and Jamal Murray combined. Derrick Favors scored 20 for Utah but no one else got more than 13, and Utah shot just 32.1% from the field. The Nuggets had opportunities to falter, especially after Jokic was ejected, but strong performances from Denver’s young players down the stretch spoke volumes about Denver’s growth so far this year.

The Nuggets and Jazz started the game trading bricks, even with Jamal Murray throwing a terrible turnover at half court. Derrick Favors finally scored on Plumlee with almost two minutes gone, while Murray followed with an answering three moments later. Jerebko and Harris traded threes, and Murray added another 3 on the break, but the game was tied at 11  with 6 minutes gone. 

After a Barton 2, Denver took a 21-15 lead with none of those points coming from Nikola Jokic. It was Murray's quarter with 13 points, as he drove the bucket on one possession and tipped in Barton's miss on the next. Lyles buried a three to cap a 12-0 scoring run as Denver worked both the offense and defense to get some distance on Utah and led 28-20 after one quarter despite a couple of late buckets by Rodney Hood.

Jokic came back in to start the second quarter as Hood made another bucket at the rim. Lyles missed three free throws, Barton committed a charge and the offense needed some wattage early in the second. Then Jokic finished a three-point play, and Lyles got a poster dunk on his former team to push the lead back to 33-22. 

Barton missed a shot and Mitchell hit a 3 as the Nuggets just couldn't pull away, but Jokic matched that 3 and Chandler finished off a nice Harris assist for a lay-in. Jokic finished off his second conventional three-point play to finish an 8-0 Denver run, then took a seat to get some well-deserved rest. The Jazz picked up their defensive activity but Lyles finished over Favors and Denver found its switching on defense to match that intensity and keep their double-digit lead at 43-32 with 2 minutes to go in the half. The Jazz shot just 4-for-18 in the second quarter.  Harris hit a three, Jokic sank a pair of free throws with 0.5 to go, and Denver won the rebounding battle 31-21 (8 by Lyles) to help them go up 50-34 at the half.

Denver started the second half with a Harris-to-Plumlee dunk, then a Plumlee-to-Murray dunk. The Nuggets struggled to defend inside early however, letting Favors notch some points. Jokic then picked up three fouls on various defenders, and threw a perfect lob to Chandler that Wilson barely saw and couldn’t convert. He did swish a two, however, and then Jokic worked over the smaller Jerebko again to take a 60-41 lead before working a two-man game with Plumlee for another Mason dunk.

Denver’s passing with Jokic in the game continued, as Gary took a fourth pass for a three and then a Jokic feed under the basket for a dunk. Derrick Favors and the Jazz crushed Denver in the early going on the offensive boards, though, keeping the margin under 20 by sheer effort. Barton missed the last runner of the quarter but Denver still went into the fourth quarter with their 16 point lead intact, 76-59.

To start the 4th, Barton had another late shot-clock pass that are becoming his unfortunate trademark. Lyles had to heave a 30 foot fall-away that missed everything, but Barton came back with a three. Jokic then committed a silly fourth foul and then got ejected on a fifth foul that was deemed a flagrant two by some egregriously poor referees.

Jokic was ejected, making his feelings known about it the whole way, and Utah started to creep back into the game. Jamal Murray stopped the momentum with a thunderous one-handed dunk, Chandler made some good free throws, but Mitchell answered with a jam of his own. The Nuggets finally decided to slow the offensive rebound onslaught from Utah and drove the rim in transition on Utah. Barton, who had a poor offensive game, botched both layups and and dunk but Murray followed up the latter to make it 92-74 with 4 minutes left in the game.

Barton couldn’t hit anything down the stretch either, but the Nuggets managed to get their victory cigar subs in the game with over a minute to go, and jogged across the finish line with Lyles getting Denver over the century mark. Final score (including a pair of Emmanuel Mudiay threes!) was 107-83.

Final Thoughts

  • Murray started the offense early, Jokic continued it, but it was Lyles’s game. Gary Harris was great too, but Lyles was a rebounder in the first half, a scorer down the stretch and even played center at times in the game. Denver had contributors up and down the lineup, but with Will Barton going 2-for-11 in this game someone had to bring the bench contributions, and it was Lyles tonight.
  • Denver kept up its defensive energy (despite some inside wobbles). Denver held its third-straight opponent to 85 points or fewer, and while Utah has been atrocious on the road they have rarely had a problem solving Denver’s defense. The Nuggets clamped down on Donovan Mitchell for most of the game, Nugget killer Joe Ingles was a non-factor, and Utah’s bench was never a factor. Holding Utah to 32% sealed the game despite the second-half wobble in rebounding.
  • The NBA will owe Jokic its second-straight apology for his ejection. If his flagrant isn’t reduced tomorrow I will be surprised (as Stiff Emeritus Jeff Morton also noted on Twitter). His “potential hostile act” involved whiffing over Jerebko’s head by several inches. Jokic’s constant complaints to referees may be aggravating them, and it’s certainly not getting him many favorable calls, but once again the NBA will likely be sending Denver another “sorry” note, a day too late to make a difference. At least he’ll save some cash and availability if they do.

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