It had been two weeks since Rudy Gobert had taken the court for the Utah Jazz.
After being put into health and safety protocols, Gobert was forced to watch from the comfort of his couch as his teammates suffered four consecutive losses — albeit with a severely hampered lineup each game.
Finally able to play again, there were some questions about how Gobert might respond after having so much time off. Would his conditioning hold up — especially in Denver? How would his body react to banging around with the reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic?
Gobert didn't just answer those questions — he made a statement.
Finishing with his league-leading 32nd double-double, Gobert was sensational in leading the Jazz to a 125-102 victory over Denver on Sunday night.
"I felt pretty good," Gobert said postgame. "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."
Gobert finished with 18 points, 19 rebounds, two assists, and two blocks. He finished with a +36 rating, easily the best rating on 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 wasn't the only Utah all-star to shine.
Donovan Mitchell was more than happy to have the big man back on the court. With Gobert proving to be a menace down low, it allowed Mitchell to thrive offensively as the Nuggets couldn't contain the high-scoring guard.
He finished with a game-high 31 points, adding five rebounds and four assists. But where he thrived was on the defensive end of the court, playing very active with two steals and grabbing key rebounds in the second half that helped the Jazz pull away late.
It wasn't the best of starts for the Jazz as the Nuggets came out firing, leading 8-0 early on before a Bojan Bogdanovic three-pointer got Utah on the board.
However, the deficit didn't last long. The Jazz turned a six-point deficit into a four-point lead at the end of the first as Jordan Clarkson went nuts, scoring 12 points in the final 2:42 of the quarter.
Utah extended its lead to 11 midway through the second quarter before Denver rallied to make it a one-point game with just under four to play in the half. But just like they did at the end of the first, the Jazz ended the second quarter on a 16-7 run to take a 68-58 advantage at the break.
Denver rallied back in the third quarter to take an 88-87 lead, but that didn't last long. Mitchell ended the quarter with four straight points, igniting a 15-0 run that extended into the early parts of the fourth.
Leading by double-digits early in the quarter, the Jazz refused to let the Nuggets back into the game as a stellar defensive play helped Utah outscore Denver 34-14 over the final 12 minutes.
"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."
Bogdanovic had one of his best overall games of the season, dropping 21 points, five assists, and four rebounds. Clarkson led a sensational effort by the bench, finishing with 16 points, six rebounds, three assists, and a +29 rating. Eric Paschall continued his stellar play of late, finishing with 10 points and a +21 rating.
Jokic finished with 25 points, 15 rebounds, and 14 assists, while Aaron Gordon added 20 points, seven rebounds, and six assists.
Utah has no time to celebrate, catching a flight to Southern California tonight to take on LeBron James and the Lakers tomorrow night. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. MST
"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."