Five Things | Bogdanovic Did What Against Denver?

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

There are only two responses when a team finds itself with its back against the wall.

Some will crumble under the pressure, unable to deal with the expectations coming their way. Others will rise to the occasion, seize the moment and come out on top. 

Although it was just a midseason game, Sunday night's contest against Denver felt as if it was one of those games where Utah would have to show what it's made of. Would the Jazz crumble under the pressure, or would they rise to the occasion?

Answer received. 

On the strength of a dominant defense and the return of Rudy Gobert, Utah used a huge fourth quarter to beat Denver 125-102 — ending their four-game losing streak and looking like the championship contenders they entered the season as. 

"I think we played hard in a lot of parts of the game," head coach Quin Snyder said. "There was a level of focus and pride on the defensive end that I hope our guys feel good about."

Here are five things to know following the win:

1.) Welcome Back, Rudy GobertAnytime Utah matches up with Denver, it's always must-see TV for the fans and NBA-folk alike. It's a game that pits the NBA's best defensive player in Gobert against the best offensive player in reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. 

Usually, the winner of this battle leads their respective team to victory — and that was the case on Sunday night. 

Returning from a two-week absence in which he was out due to health and safety protocols, Gobert finished with 18 points, 19 rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and a game-high +36 rating, easily the best of the night. 

He played with no rust on the offensive end, attacking the offensive glass relentlessly (seven offensive rebounds) and showing control and strength around the rim to finish 7-for-7 from the field. Defensively, he was what you would expect as he not only altered many shots at the rim, he defended beautifully when either in the pick-and-roll or out on the perimeter. 

But where Gobert really separated himself was his dominance on both ends of the court when going up against Jokic. Despite Jokic putting up another triple-double, Gobert got the better of him after finishing with a +11 rating when they were on the court at the same time.

Gobert's return validates his importance to the team. An MVP candidate on the season, he is proving that his growth on both ends of the court is no fluke and makes the Jazz legitimate title contenders.

"I felt pretty good," Gobert said. "Obviously, every time you play in Denver, you'll get tired at some point. … I got tired in the first and third quarters, but I felt better than I usually do. I'm happy to be back and grateful to do what I have to do."

2.) Jordan Clarkson Catches Fire In the midst of a four-game losing streak, the Jazz knew it would be of massive importance to get off to a good start against the Nuggets. If they could do that, they could take out the crowd early, making it a much less hostile environment.

Unfortunately, that didn't go as planned. 

Ball Arena was rocking early after Denver jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead, taking a 29-23 advantage late in the first quarter. 

Enter Jordan Clarkson. 

With the Jazz desperately needing a boost, Clarkson delivered as he scored 12 points in the final 2:42. That ignited a 14-4 run, allowing Utah to end the first quarter up 37-33. 

While it may seem insignificant considering it was just the first quarter and Denver would eventually take the lead late in the third quarter, those final three minutes of the first gave the Jazz the confidence they needed. 

Known as one of the best shot-creators and makers in the game, Clarkson finished with 16 points, six rebounds, three assists, and an absurd +29 rating in just 27 minutes of action. His ability to pick the Jazz up when they're struggling on offense is a significant reason why this team has the league's highest-rated offense — by a long shot. 

3.) Utah Wins With DefenseThroughout Utah's four-game losing streak — and with Gobert sidelined due to health and safety protocols — the defensive rating jumped from No. 5 in the league to No. 12. While it's not exactly shocking considering how valuable Gobert is on that side of the court, that's still a significant jump.

Instead of shying away from the issues, the Jazz embraced them. The past three days allowed the team to watch some film and break down some mistakes, helping them get back on the practice court and iron out some "communication" issues.

"To finally be back, have most of our guys back to have a practice, and to sit down and watch, we're able to talk, and we know what to say to each other," Mitchell said postgame.

Those practice sessions paid off as the Jazz were dominant defensively in the final 12 minutes. Utah held Denver to 14 points in the fourth as the Nuggets shot 26.1% (6-for-23) from the field and 18.2% (2-for-11) from three-point territory. 

"Every single guy on the court was locked in defensively," Gobert said about the fourth quarter defense. "There were a few plays when Donovan made an amazing play on the ball. Donovan and Jordan got a few big rebounds, and then we were able to run and score in transition. … So just a great team effort."

Combining that sort of defense with such a high-powered offense proves that the Jazz have what it takes to win a championship. And now, finally getting healthy and most of their players back, there's no reason this team should be taken lightly the rest of the way.

4.) Bojan Bogdanovic Shows Something NewWhile there isn't a single person in the Utah organization who undervalues the high-scoring forward, Bogdanovic may not get the respect he deserves from the rest of the league. 

Sunday night was just another game in which Bogdanovic proved to be the perfect scoring complement to Mitchell. He was highly efficient, finishing with 21 points, five assists, and four rebounds, shooting 8-of-15 from the floor.

Although that sort of performance has become customary throughout the season — he's averaging 17.9 points per game — Bogdanovic showed that he's much more than a shooter with a sensational move in the first half. 

Beating his man off the dribble with a behind-the-back move, Bogdanovic then froze Jokic with a ball-fake before laying it up on the other side of the hoop. It was a rare showing combining skill and athleticism, but it was the exact sort of play that proves he's a legitimate scorer in the league.

5.) Utah Hits The Road For Brutal Back-To-BackDespite breaking their four-game losing streak with a dominating performance, the redemption tour the Jazz are on doesn't get any easier.

Utah flies to Los Angeles tonight to face LeBron James and the Lakers in a Monday night showdown following the brutality of playing at altitude in Denver. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. MST.

It's unknown if Mike Conley — who has sat out a few games this year on back-to-backs — will play, which could hinder the depth. Gobert and Rudy Gay saw their first action in over a week tonight, so it will be interesting how their bodies recover for a game less than 24 hours later. 

Throw in that Los Angeles is desperate for a victory following three consecutive losses that have dropped them to No. 8 in the Western Conference, Monday night should be entertaining.