Denver’s defense demoralizes Jazz as Nuggets cruise to third-straight win

Dec 26, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) battles for a loose ball with Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee (24) and center Nikola Jokic (15) in the first quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets returned home to the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver to host the Utah Jazz with the Nuggets looking to expand on their two-game winning streak.

The first quarter was the Jamal Murray show. He was raining down threes like mortar fire and added an offensive rebound put-back and a slicing layup off the bounce for good measure. Eventually, that culminated into 13 points on 5-8 shooting in the first quarter alone.

Murray set the tone from the start as he hit the Nuggets’ first bucket, and the bench picked up right where Murray left off as the trio of Will Barton, Torrey Craig, and Trey Lyles — who saw a few minutes as a small-ball center — came in and put up eight points in five minutes to extend the Nuggets’ lead to eight points as the first quarter came to an end. The Nuggets carried a 28-20 lead into the second quarter as their defense contained the Jazz and their offense continued to hum.

The second quarter was essentially just a repeat of the first. Lyles threw down a poster dunk, Nikola Jokic got fouled after hitting a layup to get his scoring started for the night, and the defense continued to suffocate the Jazz. Jokic continued to roll as he accumulated 11 points in the second quarter alone as the Nuggets ballooned their lead to as many as 16 points — which was the lead they eventually took into halftime by a score of 50-34.

The biggest reason for the Nuggets’ defensive success largely had to do with their rebounding. By the time the first half had ended, Denver has gobbled up an obscene 31 rebounds with only five of them coming on the offensive side of the floor. Being able to end defensive possessions with a rebound is so important to the Nuggets’ defensive success. There are very few things in basketball that are more demoralizing than putting together a great defensive possession and then allowing an offensive rebound. That did not happen to Denver tonight as they finished with an absolutely incredible 52 total rebounds with 42 coming on the defensive end of the floor.

The second half started eerily similar to the first; with an incredible bucket by Murray. Where the differences started was that instead of a three to start the half, Murray threw down a one-handed hammer dunk and proceeded to follow that up with a three-pointer. His aggressiveness continued to set the tone for the Nuggets.

Denver kept their foot on the throttle and extended their lead by as many as 21 points as they continued to abuse Utah down low.  It did not matter who they elected to throw at Jokic; he just continued to feast on whoever was defending him.

Jokic was not just producing raw numbers either. He was the most vocal player on both ends for Denver, was passing teammates open, and consistently was demoralizing Utah every time he touched the basketball. The leadership that fans are looking for out of Jokic was on full display as he led the Nuggets each and every second he was on the floor.

The third quarter finally came to a merciful end as the Nuggets waltzed into the final frame with a lead of 76-59. The Nuggets staved off every run that the Jazz threw at them and handled it with poise and control.

Once the fourth quarter began, things got very interesting. Jokic tried to get his arm over Joe Ingles and caught him in the head. The play was reviewed and the referees decided it was right to asses a flagrant-two to Jokic and ejected him from the game. The call was very  controversial so look at the video below and decide for yourself.

The second that Jokic was ejected, Murray took over. He scored four straight points, including another big dunk, and proceeded to turn his aggression up to an insane level. He helped Denver push their lead back up to 16 points with just under seven minutes left as Denver retook control of the fourth quarter without their star center.

By the time that the fourth quarter had come to a close, the Nuggets had secured a dominant win by a score of 107-83 for their third straight victory and 19th win of the season to go against 15 losses. At 19-15, the Nuggets advanced to their best 34-game start since the 2010-2011 season. Denver will now travel to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves on Dec. 27th for the second game of their back to back.

Click here for a full video recap.