Denver Nuggets 102, Utah Jazz 125: Three Takeaways

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It was going to be hard for the Denver Nuggets to follow up their dominant win over the Los Angeles Lakers less than 24 hours after Saturday’s contest. Despite a valiant effort on the second night of a back-to-back, the Nuggets fell 125-102 to the Utah Jazz to end the weekend, as Utah’s offense had an answer all night long.

Denver jumped out to an early 8-0 lead following the first two minutes of action, which maintained in the ensuing minutes as the Mile High squad had a 15-7 lead at the first timeout. Aaron Gordon torched the nets with 12 points in the first quarter to lead the way for the Nuggets. Both teams had it going offensively in the opening frame, as Utah held a 37-33 advantage after the first 12 minutes. The Jazz shot 58.3 percent from the field in the opening quarter, while the Nuggets hit 56.5 percent of their attempts.

Utah extended the lead to double-digits early in the second frame as Denver’s offense went cold. The Nuggets got back into the game as their starters checked back in, using a 9-2 run to get within at four at 49-45. Nikola Jokić found a rhythm down the stretch of the second quarter and finished with 18 points (to go along with six assists and rebounds) at the half. Despite getting within two points late in the quarter, the Nuggets found themselves down 68-58 at the break as a result of a late run from the Jazz.

Denver slightly chipped away at the lead in the opening minutes of the second half, but Utah continued to put up points in a hurry to delay the Nuggets’ comeback. Near the midway point of the quarter, the Jazz were up 77-74. A late flurry gave the Mile High squad an 81-80 advantage, capped off with an and-one from Will Barton. The two teams went back-and-forth in the closing minutes of the frame, but Utah took a 91-88 lead into the fourth quarter.

A quick 6-0 run from the Jazz prompted an early timeout from Nuggets head coach Michael Malone just one minute into the final frame. Denver’s starters checked back in earlier than usual as the Mile High squad looked to make one final push, but Utah seemed to have an answer for every Nuggets basket. With just under six minutes remaining, Utah’s lead stood at 111-95, the largest of the game. Unfortunately for Denver, that deficit only grew down the stretch of the quarter.

Here are three takeaways from Sunday’s loss.

Denver struggled to get stops

The Nuggets dug themselves a hole in the first half against one of the elite teams in the league as a result of struggles on the defensive end. Utah scored 68 points in the first half and was effective from all areas of the floor (eight made 3-pointers and 34 points in the paint).

Denver’s defense did tighten up in the second half (especially as the game got close late in the third quarter), but it wasn’t enough to overcome on the second night of a back-to-back. Utah finished Sunday’s contest at 52.4 percent from the field, 38.5 percent from deep, and with 54 points in the paint.

Jokić continues to thrive against Utah

The reigning MVP has had plenty of success against the Jazz in recent years, and Sunday’s game was no exception. Jokić dropped 18 points, six rebounds, and six assists on 7-of-9 shooting from the field in the first half as he helped Denver stay in the game when it looked like Utah would pull away.

The Serbian big man continued to do it all in the second half and had already racked up a triple-double after the first three quarters. In the end, Jokić finished with 25 points, 15 rebounds, and 14 assists in his 37 minutes of action.

Utah won the battle of second units

Unfortunately for the Nuggets, they weren’t able to replicate the dominance off the bench from Saturday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Just 24 hours removed from that win, Denver’s second unit struggled to find a rhythm Sunday night, which resulted in just 24 points scored.

Meanwhile, Utah’s bench unit was effective when called upon and finished with 36 points on the night. Jordan Clarkson led the way off the bench for the Jazz with 16 points.

Denver is back in action Wednesday night against the LA Clippers (8 p.m. MT).