Denver Nuggets 110, Utah Jazz 122: Three Takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyroNBA

The first divisional matchup of the season for the Denver Nuggets didn’t go according to plan, for several reasons. A first-half injury to reigning MVP Nikola Jokić caused him to miss the remainder of Tuesday’s game against the Utah Jazz, as the Nuggets fell 122-110 on the road.

The first quarter was a back-and-forth shootout, as both teams scored in the paint with ease. Jokić and Aaron Gordon combined for 19 points on 8-of-8 shooting in the opening frame, as both teams finished with 18 points in the paint. Utah ultimately took a 35-31 lead into the second quarter, taking advantage of four Nuggets turnovers in the opening 12 minutes.

Utah extended the lead to double-digits in the first two minutes of the second quarter as Denver went to a full second unit lineup. The Nuggets were able to cut the deficit down to single digits throughout the quarter as the starters checked back into the game, but the Jazz maintained control throughout the frame and ultimately secured a 66-64 lead at the halftime break. Jokić dropped 24 points, six rebounds, and six assists in the first half, but exited with two minutes remaining after suffering a right knee contusion.

With Jokić out to begin the second half, head coach Michael Malone inserted JaMychal Green alongside the other four starters. Gordon picked up from his hot start in the opening quarter, while Will Barton got going in the third quarter to help Denver regain the lead midway through the frame. Barton chipped in with 16 points in the third quarter alone, but Utah took a 91-90 lead into the final 12 minutes.

Utah extended the lead to open the fourth quarter as Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside took advantage of Denver’s smaller frontcourt with Jokić out of the game. The Nuggets went cold at the wrong time, which dug a hole that was too deep to come back from in the final minutes of the game.

Here are three takeaways from Tuesday’s loss.

Gordon steps up

In the first half, Gordon and Jokić led the way for Denver. With Jokić exiting the game before the break, Gordon found himself in a larger offensive role throughout the remainder of the game, and the 26-year-old forward didn’t disappoint.

Using a flurry of mid-range jumpers and finishes around the rim, Gordon dropped a season-high 20 points Tuesday night on 9-of-13 shooting from the field. Unfortunately, foul trouble limited Gordon’s playing time, as he finished with five fouls in 34 minutes.

The battle in the paint

Although both teams shot reasonably well from beyond the arc, Tuesday’s game feature a lot of action in the paint. Utah finished with 60 points in the paint compared to 52 for the Nuggets as both teams got to the rim early and often.

Unfortunately for the Nuggets, the Jazz also outscored them from beyond the arc (12 3-pointers to 10 for Denver) and at the free throw line, which helped Utah pull out the win in the first meeting between the division rivals.

Next man up

With the reigning MVP going down, Denver needed offense from its supporting cast, and both Barton and Monte Morris stepped up to the plate. As mentioned earlier, Barton dropped 16 of his 21 points in the third quarter alone, while Morris added 19 points in his 35 minutes of action.

If Jokić misses time, the Nuggets will continue to need that level of production from Barton and Morris alongside Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. in the starting lineup.

Denver returns to action Friday against the Dallas Mavericks (8 p.m. MT, ESPN and Altitude TV).

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