Denver Nuggets 105-124 Utah Jazz: Three Takeaways
The Nuggets’ recent defensive woes came back to haunt them as they suffered a 124-105 rout at the hands of the Jazz in Game 2.
Nikola Jokić and Michael Porter Jr. led the Nuggets with 28 points apiece. Utah guard Donovan Mitchell continued his playoff dominance as he poured in a game-high 30 points to go along with eight assists.
Denver will now aim to get back on track on Friday when it plays a “road” game against Utah at 2 p.m. MT on ALTITUDE.
"This is the playoffs. We need to find a way to respond in Game 3...We'll be better in Game 3," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said.
Here are the takeaways:
Defensive issues rear head again
The Nuggets haven’t been able to find their defensive footing during the NBA restart and they paid dearly for it in their Game 2 loss to the Jazz.
Throughout the NBA seeding games, the Nuggets were dead last in the NBA in defensive rating and three-point percentage allowed at 44.8. The team showed progress in their Game 1 win over Utah, allowing the Jazz to shoot 34.7, but those aforementioned issues returned on Wednesday. The Jazz were getting easy look after easy look from downtown and finished the contest by hitting 20 of 44 threes on the afternoon.
Three-point defense has been a concern for Malone and his staff as the team went from being one of the top teams in the NBA in guarding it to almost becoming a turnstile in that regard. It has to be addressed or the Nuggets might be returning to Denver way earlier than anticipated.
"If you're not able to contain the ball, they are going to be able to drive and kick out to their shooters," Malone said.
The Nuggets being outmuscled in the paint. While the team did heed Malone’s call to improve on the glass, they were dominated in scoring in the paint. Utah had the 48-28 advantage in that area. Considering that the Nuggets have an all-NBA center, a four-time All-Star at power forward and two of the best reserve bigs in the game, it’s difficult to comprehend the gap between both sides.
The Nuggets will need to address both areas if they want to take the series lead on Friday.
"They made some adjustments and now it's our turn to go make ours," Jamal Murray said after the game.
Bench battle lost
Defense wasn’t the only area that slipped for the Nuggets as they were beaten in the battle of the reserves on Wednesday. In short, they had no answers for Jordan Clarkson.
The Jazz’s sixth man finished with a career-playoff high 26 points on 50 percent shooting to go along with four rebounds and three assists. While Denver doesn’t necessarily need to have a player off its bench score 20 points plus a game, considering Utah is shorthanded, it is a bit surprising to see the 43-30 disparity in production between both second units.
"Jordan Clarkson was a difference-maker in the first half," Malone said.
On a positive note, Monte Morris finished with 10 points and four assists, continuing a resurgent playoff performance from the Nuggets’ reserve floor general.
MPJ breaks out
Michael Porter Jr. had an uneven Game 1, but he returned to the form that saw him get a second-team All-Bubble nod. There were times on Wednesday when the rookie was nearly unguardable, especially in the second quarter.
Prior to the Nuggets surrendering a 20-6 run to finish the first half trailing by 13, Porter Jr. went on a sizzling run of his own. The 22-year-old scored 12 points on 4 of 7 shooting in just 16 minutes.
"I'm 6-foot-10. I have a pretty high release. I don't really know what it looks like on TV, but it doesn't feel like they have a hand in my face," Porter Jr. explained confidently after the game.
Although there are some defensive areas Porter Jr. needs to address, it was encouraging to see the first-year player respond with a confident performance.