"That's A Really Good Team Win" | Utah Begins Season With Resounding Victory Over Denver

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

All offseason, the Jazz consistently said they weren't listening to the outside noise.

Wednesday night proved it.

Led by seven players in double figures, Utah sent a message to the rest of the NBA after taking down Denver 123-102 to begin the 2022-23 NBA season. 

"My thoughts initially are, that's a really good team win," head coach Will Hardy said. “We had seven guys in double figures, every player that played in the game had an assist. On the defensive end, our physicality and tenacity was really infectious throughout our group.”

Coming off a severe knee injury that caused him to miss most of last season, Collin Sexton proved that he's back and as quick as ever. He came off the bench to drop a team-high 20 points, shooting 6-of-12 from the floor while adding five rebounds and two assists.

Where he was most impressive was his consistency in attacking the rim. Using his elite quick first step, Sexton got into the key easily, either drawing a foul or kicking out to an open shooter. He finished 7-of-8 from the free throw line.

“Collin is tough,” Hardy said. “You can see the fire that he has, especially at the end of the game. He made some big plays. He’s a maniac in the gym. … His work ethic is one of the best I’ve come across in my time in the NBA.”

Along with Sexton, Lauri Markkanen impressed in his debut for the Jazz.

The 7-footer from Finland showed off his impressive skillset in many ways by scoring from beyond the arc and in the post. He finished with 17 points, four rebounds, four assists, and two steals. 

But he drew the most praise from Hardy on the defensive end. 

Whether scrapping with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic in the post or switching out onto Michael Porter Jr. on the perimeter, Markkanen battled all game long. While his offensive skillet is what he's best known for, his willingness to fight on defense helped spark the Jazz to victory. 

“He’s versatile on both ends of the floor,” Hardy said of Markkanen. “His size and athleticism, as well as his intelligence, is really important to our group.”

Despite the lopsided finish, Utah didn't get off to the greatest of starts. 

The Nuggets jumped out to a 9-4 lead early as they took advantage of multiple Jazz turnovers in the beginning. But Jordan Clarkson steadied the pace, knocking down a corner three-pointer off a Markkanen assist. 

That shot from Clarkson ignited a 15-4 run as Kelly Olynyk and Mike Conley combined to knock down three three-pointers. Denver rallied to cut the deficit to two, but Utah ended the quarter on a 10-5 run to lead 37-30 after one. 

The Jazz wasted no time breaking the game open, going on a 14-0 run to start the second quarter. Rudy Gay (16 points) scored seven points during the run, finishing with 10 in the quarter. 

After the Nuggets appeared to gain momentum at the end of the quarter, Markkanen knocked down a three-pointer and Conley added a three-point play to give Utah a 75-53 lead at the break.

Denver came out of the half looking more like the team everyone expected, going on a 9-3 run to seize momentum. After the Nuggets cut the deficit to 11, Utah responded with a quick 7-2 run to take a 94-80 lead heading into the final 12 minutes. 

Despite the double-digit lead entering the fourth, Utah saw it dwindle down to seven with 5:35 to play following a Jokic bucket. But Gay and Malik Beasley responded for the Jazz, knocking down consecutive three-pointers to start an 18-4 run to end the game. 

Sexton clinched the win when he went on a personal 6-0 run, complete with a driving finish around Jokic that sent Jazz Nation into one last frenzy. 

“Denver is a really good team,” Hardy said. “They threw a big punch in the second half. … But our guys just stuck together and we maintained our identity on the defensive and offensive end well tonight.”

Conley finished with 13 points and eight assists, while Clarkson chipped in 10 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Beasley added 15 points and five rebounds, while rookie Walker Kessler finished with a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Utah now hits the road for three games, starting with a showdown against Rudy Gobert and Minnesota on Friday night. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. MT.

The Jazz will return home to host Houston on Wednesday, October 26 — click HERE for tickets.