With the reigning MVP in the locker room nursing a knee injury, the reigning defensive player of the year stole the show late.
As Denver's Nikola Jokic sat and watched from the locker room, Utah's Rudy Gobert dominated on both ends of the court in the fourth quarter as the Jazz took down the Nuggets 122-110 on Tuesday night.
In what was supposed to be a battle of two of the best big men in the game, that game plan was derailed when Gobert and Jokic knocked knees late in the second quarter. While Gobert remembers not feeling much, Jokic crumpled to the floor while writhing in pain. He was able to get up and walk off the court under his own power, albeit with a noticeable limp.
"First of all, it sounds like he's okay, and I hope that is the case. It's always scary," Utah head coach Quin Snyder said. "He's obviously a central part of the game plan, and that changes."
Jokic didn't return to the game, suffering what the Denver PR said was a 'knee contusion."
"I went up to Nikola as he was warming up at halftime. I said, 'How do you feel?' He said, 'It feels a little weak,' and I just shut him down. I took the decision (out of his hands). It's not his decision to make," Denver head coach Mike Malone said. "He's far too important to this team for us to risk him being out there if he's not feeling confident about it."
With Jokic sidelined, Gobert was able to show off his ever-evolving skillset as he took complete control on both ends of the court in the fourth quarter.
As Utah's offense began to find a rhythm, it came as no surprise that Gobert was in the middle of the success. From his ability to set screens to free up Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley to his proficiency playing bully ball in the post, Gobert was instrumental in Utah's late 15-4 run that sealed the victory.
"I think we started to move the ball more," Gobert said of what changed in the fourth quarter, where Utah outscored Denver 31-20. "It's kind of the cycle when we play well defensively, our offense gets better. … I don't know, I like when that happens, and that's when we play our best basketball."
With Denver out of options and Utah's offense flowing, the Nuggets resulted in a hack-attack on Gobert, forcing him to win the game for Utah at the free throw line.
It seemed like a good plan after Gobert went 1-for-6 from the charity stripe in the first half, including an 0-for-4 showing in the second quarter. But the plan backfired as he made the Nuggets pay, shooting 8-for-10 from the free throw line en route to 14 points and eight rebounds in the final 12 minutes.
"I was mad at myself for missing four free throws in the first, so they gave me a great opportunity to redeem myself," Gobert said. "Gotta embrace it. … I know I'm a good free-throw shooter, so I got to knock them down.
Gobert entered last night's game averaging 16.5 points and 20.5 rebounds, finishing with more points than rebounds in each contest.
But against Jokic and with the eyes of the nation watching, Gobert flipped the script and showed what he's capable of. He finished with a season-high 23 points, adding in 16 rebounds to have his third consecutive double-double to begin the season.
As his offensive game continues to evolve, Gobert is proving that his early-season success is no fluke. From a midrange jumper at the free throw line to his euro-step and finish through traffic, Gobert is providing the Jazz with a legitimate post-presence on the offensive end of the court.
"He did it in the preseason, he did it in training camp, and now I think that's the level we're going to see out of him," Mitchell said.
Utah now begins a stretch with six of its next seven games on the road, beginning at Houston on Thursday night at 6 p.m. The Jazz return home on Tuesday, Nov. 2 when it hosts Sacramento at 7 p.m. To purchase tickets for the game against the Kings, click HERE.