Denver Nuggets 105, Utah Jazz 109: Three takeaways
The Nuggets (6-7) were dominant on the glass and efficient in moving the ball around but it wasn’t enough as they suffered a 109-105 defeat to their Rocky Mountain rivals, the Utah Jazz (9-4), at Ball Arena.
Denver, which entered the game ranked 28th in rebounds, owned the boards 52-36 against the NBA’s top rebounding team and only had nine turnovers. Yet, its three-point defense proved costly as it allowed Utah to hit 15 of 37 from downtown.
"Our guys played hard as hell tonight," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after the game. "I'm proud of the effort, I'm proud of our guys. Obviously, it always sucks to lose and it is a tough loss to a division opponent -- that team is playing very well."
Nikola Jokić nearly had another triple-double, putting up 35 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists to lead Denver. Utah was paced by Jordan Clarkson, who paced the team with 23 points. The Jazz had six scorers in double figures.
Denver will now look to wrap up its three-game homestand on a winning note against the Oklahoma City Thunder (6-6) Tuesday night (7 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE).
Here are the takeaways:
Downtown defense struggles continue
Utah entered Sunday’s game tied for fourth in three-pointers made per game and fifth in the league in three-point percentage. Prior to the game, Malone stressed the urgency of guarding downtown.
“It’s going to require multiple efforts [to slow Utah down on threes],” he said. “It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for our defense.”
Despite the increased focus, the Nuggets had no answers for the Jazz downtown. The visiting team converted 40.5 percent of their attempts. Although the team was able to contain Donovan Mitchell, holding the Jazz star to 18 points on 7-of-20 shooting, other players stepped up. Bojan Bogdanović, who Malone expressed concern about prior to the game, moved past recent struggles to connect on 5 of 9 attempts from downtown. He finished with 17 points. Jordan Clarkson added another four from deep while Royce O’Neale and Georges Niang added another two apiece. It was an advantage the Nuggets couldn’t overcome.
"We do enough to win the game and then we have certain breakdowns or streaks where we kind of blank out and the other team goes on a run and that hurts us," Jamal Murray explained. "That gives the [other] team confidence."
Star duo shines
Murray has been struggling with an elbow injury, but he had a strong opening half as his 24 points in 21 minutes powered the Nuggets to a five-point lead at the break.
Despite the aforementioned injury, Murray didn’t hesitate to attack the rim throughout the game. Late in the first quarter, he beat on O’Neale off the dribble to go in for a one-handed slam. Murray cooled off in the second half, adding another six points on 2-of-11 shooting, but that’s when the Joker took over.
Jokić scored 19 of his 35 in the final two quarters to help keep the Nuggets in the game as the Jazz made their run. He also had nine rebounds and five assists in the second half.
Offensive struggles affect team
Outside of Murray and Jokić, who combined for 65 points, the Nuggets struggled to find anyone else who was a threat throughout the matchup.
"They made shots, we didn't," Jokić said after the game.
None of the other starters hit more than two field goals as Will Barton III, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap combined for 5-of-23 shooting. Only two other players, Monte Morris and P.J. Dozier, hit just three field goals. Considering the Nuggets approach on both ends is strength in numbers, the inability to find offensive consistency hurt the team.
Denver shot just 40 percent on the night while Utah converted at 51.3 percent.
"It wasn't for a lack of effort [that we lost], but you have to be able to convert and finish some of those [opportunities]," Malone said.