The Denver Nuggets got all that they could handle in Game 1 of their first-round matchup with the Utah Jazz on Monday afternoon.
Denver had to overcome an impressive 57-point, nine rebound, and seven assist performance from Donovan Mitchell that had the Nuggets on their heels for the entire game.
They pulled out the 135-125 win in overtime as Denver relied on two of their cornerstone players in Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, who had a back-and-forth battle with Mitchell. Murray finished with 36 points and nine assists in the game as he hit clutch shot after clutch shot to give the Nuggets an opportunity to win. Nikola Jokic brought it home for Denver and finished with 29 points in the game and also secured 10 rebounds as well. Jokic hit two 3-pointers in overtime to build on the Nuggets lead and was an offensive force that made it difficult for the Jazz to make any comebacks in the game.
Denver went into Game 2 ready to make improvements on the defensive end, but could not capitalize as Utah took a massive run into halftime and did not look back from there.
In a game that saw the Jazz make 20 3-pointers and win 124-105 to even the series at one game apiece, I give you the good, bad and ugly.
Good – Michael Porter Jr. heats up
Michael Porter Jr. had himself a decent showing in Game 1, but he was attacked on the defensive end , he did not communicate or fight through screens, and it was difficult for Malone to keep him on the floor as a result.
In Game 2, things changed as he was locked in on the offensive end.
Porter did not score in the first quarter, but Malone made the decision to give him the look against the opposing second-unit and it ended up being the difference in the game early on as it got Porter going.
Denver trailed heading into the second quarter and could not get much offense going besides Jokic and Monte Morris.
Then Porter arrived.
with AUTHORITY. pic.twitter.com/xATwSD0Vpp
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) August 19, 2020
Porter had a burst before halftime as he finished with 12 of his 28 points in the second frame alone. He hit back-to-back 3-pointers and then got inside for an and-one finish. He was also aggressive on the boards as he had six rebounds in the game.
In the second half, Porter continued to showcase himself as an elite scorer and was one of the only bright spots for Denver. The rookie hit pull-up jumpers, found his way around the rim, and put himself in scoring positions.
Denver struggled to get much going offensively in Game 2. Still, for them to continue to get great offensive production from a player that they will desperately need with Will Barton III leaving the bubble due to knee discomfort, there is at least one positive heading into Game 3.
Bad – Nuggets struggle with early deficit
As great of a second quarter as it was for Porter scoring the basketball, that might have been the only thing that went well for the Nuggets in the first half.
Utah finished the first half on a 22-6 run to head into the halftime intermission with a 61-48 lead.
For Utah, Jordan Clarkson and Rudy Gobert were the difference makers of the first half.
Clarkson was a spark for the second unit as he found his outside shot early and did not look back. Clarkson had a game-high 16 points at the half as he hit 4-6 from beyond the arc and was hunting for baskets. Gobert was his usual self on the defensive end finishing with two blocks and protecting the rim, but he was also a source of offense for Utah as well. Gobert had 12 points in the first half as he went 4-5 from the field. He finished with and-one finishes and dunks while also hitting his free-throws as well.
Utah had everything going for them, but credit also could be given to Jazz head coach Quin Snyder who made adjustments to the way that the Jazz defended the Nuggets, specifically Murray.
The Nuggets were bottled up offensively in the first half, and Murray could not get himself going as he only had four points at the half. The reason for that was the decision by Snyder to tae Joe Ingles off of Murray and have Royce O’Neal defend Denver’s starting point guard instead. His size and speed proved to rattle Murray and get him out of his offensive rhythm that he was in.
With Denver struggling to come up with enough stops and Murray not having his same kind of production, the Nuggets went into the second half with a hole that was too much to overcome.
Ugly – Bubble defense a problem
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone was not pleased with the defensive effort that the Nuggets put forth in Game 1 and with reason.
To allow a player like Mitchell to get hot and go off for 57 points while also allowing Utah to score so easily while dominating the boards was an area that Malone stated that he wanted to make improvements to.
In Game 2, Denver gave Mitchell different looks, and while he did not go for 57 points, he did affect the game in so many other ways which led to their win.
Mitchell was still ultra-productive in the game and dominated the matchup differently. Mitchell finished with 21 points in the third frame alone to set up for 30 on the night.
Denver also continues to struggle on 3-point defense.
Ingles shot counter: ☕️☕️☕️ pic.twitter.com/Js5AUjHoOL
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) August 19, 2020
Utah scored 60 points from beyond the arc as Denver failed to run shooters off of the line which allowed Utah to move the ball quickly around the arc leading to open triples all night long.
If Denver continues to allow a team like Utah to hit 20 3-pointers as well as allow their reserves to have a performance like they did in Game 2, it is going to be challenging to win the series.
The Nuggets have been the worst defense in the entire NBA since entering the bubble, and after allowing 124 points in Game 2, it will continue to look that way.
Adjustments must be made in Game 3.