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Utah pulls away late to beat the Nuggets

The Jazz have a lot of work to do

Denver Nuggets v Utah Jazz Photo by Jeff Swinger/NBAE via Getty Images

The Utah Jazz pulled away late to beat the Denver Nuggets, 122-110

The Jazz offense was absolutely humming in this one up until Nikola Jokic left the game just before halftime with a knee contusion.

With Jokic in the game, the Jazz had built a double-digit lead attacking the reigning MVP. But with Jokic down the Nuggets went with the same style Jazz fans saw against the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs last season. With a 5-out system the Nuggets eventually took the lead and held it for a good portion of the 4th quarter.

It was a win for the Jazz tonight but there were a lot of things to be concerned about. One of the major things was the play of Aaron Gordon. For most of this game, Aaron Gordon attacked Bojan Bogdanovic relentlessly. Gordon went 9/13 from the field and Bogdanovic could do nothing to stop him. With Jokic on the perimeter, it kept Rudy Gobert out of the paint and he couldn’t help Bogdanovic. In a Jazz 12-point win Bogdanovic was a -4. That’s an issue.

The solution might be his backup. Eric Paschall was a +16 for the game. He brings a toughness on defense that the Jazz sorely need on the perimeter. Paschal took, and missed, 1 shot tonight but you could argue he was a much more impactful player because of his overall game. This doesn’t mean that Bogdanovic won’t improve and provide the play the Jazz need but tonight Bogdanovic was 1/5 from 3 and 5/14 from the field. If his shot isn’t falling, and his defense was as poor as it was tonight, the Jazz have to look for other options.

With the Nuggets going small in the second half the Jazz ran the same lineups with a rolling center all game. That’s not to say Hassan Whiteside didn’t have a good game, he did, but the Jazz just don’t seem to have a lot of options when teams go small. Rudy Gobert can guard the perimeter. (Honestly, he can guard the perimeter better than anyone on the team, maybe the league.) The problem isn’t Rudy, it’s the perimeter defense of the rest of the team. The Nuggets did what the Clippers did in the playoffs. Get Rudy Gobert out of the paint and then hunt the weakest link on the perimeter. Then on defense switch everything and clog the paint. Tonight, the Nuggets were playing their second game in two nights and they ran out of gas. If they hadn’t been tired, the end of this game might have been different. It’s troublesome. When Rudy Gay joins the team, that might be the solution to all of this. Maybe the Jazz will have lineups with Rudy Gay and Erich Paschal and switch everything? It might be the trick. The only issue is that means the Jazz are relying heavily on a 36-year-old coming off of foot surgery. Will the Jazz be able to hold everything together for an entire 82-game season?

Finally, Donovan Mitchell has been inconsistent to start the season and the Jazz have still won. Last game he went off from three but couldn’t hit anything inside. Tonight? 9/20 from the field and 1/9 from three. He also had 4 turnovers tonight. The Jazz need more consistency from Mitchell. His play in the playoffs last year was phenomenal and he’s not looked quite right yet. Once he does, this Jazz team will go on win streaks like they did last year. What happens in the playoffs though? We’ll see. Struggling to pull away from a team without their two best players is worrisome. Luckily, this is the third game of the season and they have all year to figure things out.