Denver Nuggets 128, Utah Jazz 117: Three takeaways
The NBA’s longest active win streak has come to an end, courtesy of Nikola Jokić and the Denver Nuggets.
Jokić was once again otherworldly and matched his career-high of 47 points to help the Nuggets end the Jazz’s league-leading run of 11 consecutive victories with a 128-117 win.
Although Jokić's teammates wanted him to score 50, the center was content with getting a win over the team with the best record in the league.
“I am hoping I’m going to score when we need it. I think we didn’t need it. It’s just a game. I think the main thing is just win the game," Jokić said. "I’m going to score however much I need to just to win the game."
Michael Malone’s team saved arguably its best offensive performance of the season so far for its Rocky Mountain rivals. The Nuggets shot an almost unbelievable 64.3 percent from downtown against the Jazz, owners of the league’s third-ranked defense prior to Sunday’s tilt. Denver led by as many as 28 before Utah had a spirited rally in third quarter, cutting the deficit to just nine at the 1:32 mark. From then on, the Nuggets would pad their lead back to 115-97 off a 18-8 run. The team wouldn’t look back from that point.
“I think we just caught fire," Will Barton III said. "We talked pregame about how good they were from the three-point line. We didn’t come out saying we wanted to match them, that was a thing that just happened. We wanted to really focus on defense, but we came out shooting the ball pretty well."
The Nuggets had six players in double-figures in scoring in the contest and shot 54 percent overall. Utah was led by Bojan Bogdanović, who had 29 points on 61.5 percent shooting.
Denver will now face two of the players who helped the team reach the Western Conference Finals last season when Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee and Pistons head to the Mile High City on Monday (7 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE).
Here are the takeaways:
A first quarter to remember
There’s hot and then there’s scorching. Jokić fell into the second category Sunday afternoon.
Jokić was cooking in the first quarter against the Jazz, pouring in a personal best in a quarter with 22 on a pinpoint 9-of-11 shooting. The Serbian was equally as deadly from downtown, each of his three attempts from three-point range.
If there one player Jokić seemingly saves some of his best outings against, it’s Rudy Gobert. After some early-career struggles against the two-time Defensive Player of the year, Jokić has figured how to be effective against the Frenchman. Last season, Jokić averaged 29.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 9.0 assists against the Jazz. The key for the Nuggets’ center has been three-point shooting. Gobert, who has averaged 2.2 blocks per game during his career, is most effective at defending the paint. When Jokić attacks from the perimeter, it neutralizes a lot of his effectiveness.
That advantage was on full display in the opening 12 minutes of the game. It was an edge Jokić rode en route to a career night.
The Nuggets lost their first encounter against the Jazz, in part, due to the team failing to get scoring from their starters outside of Jokić and Jamal Murray. Will Barton III refused to allow a repeat in Sunday’s contest.
The veteran swingman was lights out from three, hitting 5 of 6 from behind the arc on the afternoon. Barton III also played a big part in the Nuggets erupting for 79 points in the first half as he tied the team-high in dimes with four at the break. Monte Morris was the other player with four dimes. Barton III would finish the game with 18.
Overall, the Nuggets had four starters in double-digit scoring Sunday. In the first encounter, only Jokić and Murray topped that mark.
"You don’t beat the best team in the NBA with just one player, it takes a team effort and I thought we got a lot of guys stepping up today," Malone said.
Bench bounces back
With the Jazz featuring one of the best sixth men in the game in Jordan Clarkson, Denver’s reserves would have to be at their best if the team was to secure a win against the team with the league’s best record.
Although the Nuggets reserves were outscored by two by their counterparts, they kept Clarkson at bay as he shot just 4 of 13 with 13 points. Facundo Campazzo was a big spark for Malone’s group, providing much-needed energy with 11 points and five assists.
"I think he was really good," Jokić said. "His defensive pressure, you never know where he’s going to be. Of course, his assists, his playmaking, that one pass to Michael [Porter Jr.] under the basket was nice. It’s something he’s been doing all his life. Just keep doing what he’s doing.”
Another standout was JaMychal Green, who finished with 11 points and five rebounds.