Donovan Mitchell put up a career-high-tying 46 points, Rudy Gobert had a 20-10 double-double and was a dominant force in the paint, and Derrick Favors contributed 16 and 7 as the Utah Jazz did what they usually do in Utah against the Nuggets: win, this time by the score of 118-108. Nikola Jokic might as well not have suited up for this one, having perhaps his worst game as a pro and fouling out in 16 minutes. Paul Millsap was barely better, and Will Barton was held scoreless as the Nuggets had no answer to Utah’s energy and effort down the stretch. Jamal Murray scored 22 points on 21 shots, most of them in the first half, while Denver’s bench kept them in the game for three quarters behind Malik Beasley’s 25 and Monte Morris’s 22.

Both teams traded paint buckets for the first 8 points of the game until the Jazz hit a three. The teams then traded a few turnovers before Gary Harris and Rudy Gobert’s dueling paint finishes made it 9-6 Utah. Donovan Mitchell hit a three, Harris dunked hard in the paint, and Gobert blocked a Jokic step-back. The Jazz kept taking it to Denver and a three point play through a Jokic foul made it 19-10 Utah. Denver kept playing Jokic 1-on-1 with Gobert and got a fastbreak steal and finish off a deflected pass while the Nuggets could not hit from outside. Another Mitchell three made it 24-12 Utah and a 15-4 Utah run with Mitchell leading the way. Jamal Murray hit Denver’s first three pointer in five tries but Mitchell obliterated Denver for 17 points in the quarter and the Jazz took a 27-21 lead into the second quarter.

Utah started the second quarter the way they played most of the first, making buckets and making things hard for Denver. 2 minutes the lead was 35-23, but Denver fought back with a pair of threes from Malik Beasley sandwiched around a Mason Plumlee dunk to cut it to 6. This aptly described the feeling of the game so far:

But Denver stayed aggressive and finally hit those outside shots. A Plumlee hook shot was their eighth straight bucket but Donovan Mitchell kept scoring for Utah to maintain the lead. Jokic checked back in with Denver down 49-46. Jokic missed a pair of free throws, the Jazz made a three and Jokic got another foul with four minutes to go. Utah’s turnovers kept Denver in it though, with 8 of them in the quarter. Millsap couldn’t hit a shot, but a Murray step-back three and a bank with a minute to go, then another last-second three made it just a one point deficit for Denver at 60-59 at the half.

Denver took the lead in the first minute of the second half, but Jokic picked up his third foul as well as well as his fourth, a huge swing of events. The Nuggets and Jaz traded slim leads for a few minutes until a pair of Favors dunks made it 72-67 in favor of the Jazz. After Gary Harris got his fourth foul also the Nuggets needed their bench to fight back and both Monte Morris and Malik Beasley obliged, with timely buckets to tie the game at 76. Donovan Mitchell made more free throws, though, and Gobert slammed home a monster dunk to pull ahead again. An 8-0 run from Utah was finally interrupted by Monte Morris who had a good night, but Joe Ingles three made it 87-78. Beasley hit his fourth three after a slip-and-recovery two to keep Denver in the ball game. Quin Snyder got a tech after Mason Plumlee took a terrible three pointer at the buzzer but got a foul call anyway. Denver made the tech and one of Plumlee’s three free throws to trail by just 5 after three, 91-86. 

Beasley got a great block and a leaning bucket to bring Denver within three, while Morris and Jae Crowder traded buckets. Jokic picked up his fifth foul (while having just two points and two assists at that point) and then Jokic fouled out in just 16 minutes of play. Millsap managed to make a free throw, one of his few points on the night, Murray went cold in the second half, and the Jazz took advantage of being in the early bonus to either dunk or make foul shots at will, stretching the lead to 11 at the four minute mark and then shortly 16. It was over when Jokic fouled out and Denver could not take advantage of a gutty bench performance. 

Final Thoughts

– Denver’s starting front court was invisible tonight. Jokic might have played his worst game ever, looking like Magic Johnson trying to quit the Lakers tonight. Paul Millsap couldn’t buy a bucket or stop Gobert and Favors from dunking anything they wanted. Both men combined for 7 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists, but it might as well have been the donut that Will Barton put on the scoreboard in his 21 minutes. The Nuggets managed to keep it close thanks to their defense but Denver’s All Stars looked like scrubs tonight, outclassed at every turn by the Utah bigs – who didn’t have their A games either. If that’s what shows up for Denver in the playoffs, Denver will be out early.

– Great job by that bench. Or at least 3 members of the bench. I could live without Plumlee deciding to take the final three point shot of the third quarter, or trying some fancy dribbling step-backs, but Denver’s bench put up 54 points thanks to Plumlee, Morris and Beasley playing all-out. If they can do that in the playoffs with a better effort from the starting bigs, Denver might actually get somewhere.

– Denver can’t play this flat any more. The playoffs are on the horizon and these half-step-slow efforts don’t cut it. Poor rotations on both sides, ineffective defensive rotations, not playing to the whistle or the buzzer… This isn’t the Denver team we’ve watched for 5 months and the Nuggets are out of time to fix it. They’ll need a good gut check after this game.