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Donovan Mitchell leads the Utah Jazz to a big win over Denver Nuggets

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Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert FLEXED big on national television.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

PUT SOME RESPECK ON THEIR NAME. In a game that featured ejections, scrappiness, boos, ear piercing decibels, big man battles, and Spida-Man heroics, the Utah Jazz made a statement on national television. They’re still here, and the best team in the Northwest Division still resides in Salt Lake City.

Donovan Mitchell put this team on his shoulders and went to work. He had 35 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. He became the first player to do that since Karl Malone and the only player to do it while hitting threes.

Donovan Mitchell pulled out every trick in his bag of tricks tonight.

Tonight’s game got off to a chippy start in the 1st quarter. With the Jazz getting out to a quick 10+ point lead, Mason Plumlee and Derrick Favors got to shoving after a regular rebounding play. Push came to shove, and Derrick Favors and Mason Plumlee were both ejected. With Favors out, the Utah Jazz had to adjust on the fly without their primary backup big man in bench lineups.

Jae Crowder immediately stepped into the spotlight. He played 33 minutes and was 5 of 12 from the field while going 3 of 9 from three with two of those threes being on potential 4 point plays.

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert stepped up big. Rudy Gobert played 36 minutes and was everywhere. Earlier in the game, Quin Snyder was having Rudy Gobert guard Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors guard Jokic in an attempt to keep Gobert closer to the rim and in less foul trouble, but without Favors, it was a big man battle. Gobert did not disappoint as he had 15 points (7 of 9 from the line), 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks with 0 turnovers. More importantly he was a +16 while on the court.

Gobert was everywhere. Chauncey Billups who was on the call for tonight’s game on ESPN—when he wasn’t Uncle Rico’ing his prime days—had a good point that when he played with Ben Wallace, he made him a All Defensive Team player—not because he was an All Defensive Team caliber player but Ben Wallace made it look that way. Gobert does that for this Utah team. He allows guys like Ingles, Mitchell, and Rubio to look 100x better on the defensive end because he’s there to punish teams on the defensive side of the ball.

Which brings us to Rubio who had a big game himself. He had 17 points, 3 rebounds, and 6 assists in only 24 minutes. I cannot remember one game this year where Rubio has been this efficient while on the court. He was aggressive when he needed to be, he made all the right passes, he pushed the pace, he played amazing D, and came up with one very big rebound in the closing minutes when the Jazz needed it most. He may have only played 24 minutes tonight, but this was—by a large margin—Ricky Rubio’s best game of the year. So good to see for Rubio.

Don’t let this recap fool you. Denver brought the heat. Even thought Gobert was a monster defensively, Jokic still got his. He’s an All Star just as much as Gobert is. He had 28 points, 21 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block, but he struggled from three. He was 1 for 7 from three.

The entire Denver team that normally shoots 36% from three was only 29% from distance. Utah on the other hand shot 41% and took 46 threes to Denver’s 27.

Utah also won the free throw battle as they went to the line 27 times to Denver’s 20.

This game had a playoff like intensity and it wouldn’t be a shocker if Utah and Denver end up playing in the playoffs. Denver may be the 2nd best team in the West right now, but they’re 6-5 in their last 10 games, and they face the league’s 4th most difficult schedule to close out the season. Utah meanwhile has the 2nd easiest schedule to end the season. We could very well see these two teams flip flopped with Utah as the 2nd seed and Denver as the 6th/7th seed by the time the season comes to an end.

With a win tonight, Utah is now in a tie for the 6th seed in the playoffs with the San Antonio Spurs. They are 1 game behind Houston for 5th, 2 games behind Portland for 4th, 3 games behind Oklahoma City for 3rd, and 5.5 games behind Denver for 2nd. The only team hotter than Utah in their last 10 games? Golden State who is 9-1 in that stretch.

Utah is 8-2 in their last 10 games while gaining momentum and getting healthier. The NBA Trade Deadline could even bring a bigger infusion of top end talent for Utah if they play their cards right.

Utah’s next game is Friday at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Utah plays an odd home and away series with them as they’ll leave for Minnesota the next day for a quick rematch on Sunday.