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The Jazz grind out a tough win in Denver

Utah’s defense comes up big against the division rival

Utah Jazz v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Utah Jazz and the Denver Nuggets go head to head, prepare yourself for a game that may induce heart attacks. Sometimes they have high scoring shoot-outs. Sometimes they have gritty defensive battles. But no matter what happens, chances are it will come down to the final seconds of the game. Tonight was no different.

The Jazz started this game strong. They were hitting shots from outside and defending well. Mike Conley got off to his now customary hot start, and things were looking good for Utah. Until they weren’t. In typical Utah Jazz fashion, this game had plenty of ups and downs. When Utah would gain a lead, Denver would quickly eat it back up. Conley was a steadying hand for the Jazz tonight. When he was on the court, Utah felt more in control of the game. When he sat, things got out of hand. Mike finished the game with 14 points and eight assists, and was a massive +17.

Nikola Jokic was excellent from start to finish tonight. He finished with 35 points, 14 rebounds, and nine assists. The Joker seems to have figured out the Jazz’ defense. He utilizes every part of the court, and pulls Rudy Gobert out to where he’s far less effective, then moves the ball to teammates who now have open lanes to the basket. Going against the Nuggets is always going to be a challenge so long as Jokic is with them.

The story of the first half was Donovan Mitchell vs. Jamal Murray, only this time, it was a very lopsided battle. Jamal Murray cooked the Jazz in the first half, giving Jazz fans nightmares of his play in the first round series last season. Donovan Mitchell on the other hand struggled mightily. At halftime Murray had 24 points while Mitchell had only 2.

The second half was a different story. After the break, Quin Snyder decided to give Miye Oni a shot at defending Murray. Oni only played 12 minutes, and he didn’t attempt a shot, but he was a +7 and did an excellent job on defense. Royce O’Neale and Mike Conley also took extended turns defending Murray, and whatever the Jazz did different, it seemed to work. Jamal Murray was held to only 6 points in the second half.

Jordan Clarkson was a flame thrower all night long. He scored 23 points on only 13 shots, and many of those points came at momentum shifting moments. JC has been incredibly reliable for the Jazz thus far this season, and that’s been monumental. Being able to rely on a sub to score an efficient 15-25 points in any given game can really help out your starters. The game tonight was yet another one that the Jazz don’t win if they don’t have Jordan Clarkson.

In the second half, Donovan Mitchell found his groove again. He still had too many costly turnovers, a problem for him this season, but he found ways to put the ball in the basket, and got his teammates involved as well. Donovan finished with 18 points and seven assists.

This game, as expected, came down to the wire. The Jazz might have been able to seal the game a bit earlier, but missed free throws from Conley and Gobert let Denver hang in there. Donovan Mitchell made a couple of big shots, Quin Snyder successfully challenged a massive call, and Royce O’Neale hit two big free throws. At that point it looked like the game may have been over, but we should have known otherwise. Jamal Murray hit a big three to make it a two point game, and the Jazz just about threw the ball away on the ensuing possession. Luckily, it went out of bounds and remained Utah ball, and the Jazz promptly got the ball in and scored two points on a Rudy Gobert dunk to clinch the win.

Game MVP

Rudy Gobert is the backbone of the Utah Jazz, and he proved it again tonight. Rudy scored 15 points on only five shot attempts, grabbed 13 rebounds, and blocked two shots. As is so often the case with Gobert though, his value isn’t shown perfectly in the box score. Rudy locked down the Nuggets, especially in the second half.

In the biggest moments of the game, Rudy was getting stops, getting rebounds, getting to the free throw line, or dunking the ball. He even threw this beauty of a pocket pass for a Donovan Mitchell dunk in a big moment.

This win really shows the talent of this team. They were severely outrebounded, they turned the ball over far too much, they’re offensive star struggled, and they were still able to fight for a win on the road against a very good team.

The Jazz have won five in a row now, and things are looking good. Next game will be on Tuesday night at home vs the New Orleans Pelicans.