Good, bad, ugly: Nuggets fight back ferociously, but fall at home to Utah

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) attempts a shot past Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) in the second half at the Pepsi Center.
Feb 28, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) attempts a shot past Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) in the second half at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets happen to be one of the most talked about teams in the entire NBA and it is because they are finally living up to their potential.

After a 121-112 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, the Nuggets came into Thursday’s game riding a five-game winning streak and are only a half game back from the first-seeded Golden State Warriors. There was plenty of incentives for Denver to pick up another home victory.

By the time the game ended, the Nuggets five-game winning streak come to an end in a 111-104 loss to the Utah Jazz at home. With that, I give you the good, bad and ugly.

Good — Will Barton injected tons of energy into the game

The Nuggets have been the league’s best defense over their last six games and that was on display early on. They were as locked in as they have been over that six-game span. Players communicated, rotated on defense and put the pressure on early to keep Denver in the game despite the offense having an off night.

Denver held Utah to just 19 points in the first quarter while only allowing Utah to shoot 30 percent from the field.

The second quarter however was when things started to turn. The Jazz scored 33 points in the quarter while putting on a defensive clinic which gave the Jazz a 52-37 lead.

The third quarter started out just as strong for Utah offensively. Then Jokic picked up his fifth foul in the third quarter with the Nuggets trailing by 16 and Denver found themselves in the danger zone.

With the game looking as if it was going to get out of hand, it was Will Barton that injected energy and carried the Nuggets back into the game.

He stepped up on the defensive end as he made stops. He had a block in the half that started a run for Denver and was surgical on the offensive end. Barton scored 13 of his 21 points in the third quarter alone and, although the Nuggets lost the game, Barton showed that he is getting back into the swing of things and looking healthy.

Bad – Offense did not show up

Utah was on the second night of a back-to-back after beating the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday and were looking to keep the momentum going against a red-hot Nuggets squad that had won nine-straight games at home.

The game consisted of two of the league’s top teams on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, the Jazz and the Nuggets both rank in the top-10 for defensive rating.

Utah put on quite a defensive show early on and continued their play in the second half as well. The Jazz made it a point to not allow Denver to get comfortable on offense early even outscoring the Nuggets 33-15 in the second quarter and disrupted their flow with swarming defense.

“This game came down to our offense in the second quarter,” said head coach Michael Malone explained. “It was tough to watch.”

The fourth quarter was when the Nuggets finally started to show up offensively. They went shot for shot with the Jazz and made things interesting in a tightly-contested win for Utah.

Denver is not a team that has had issues with the offense not showing up and cannot afford to have these types of games now. Denver is looking to close out the season with as many wins as they can get. Finding a rhythm on both ends of the floor is essential to racking up more and more wins.

Ugly – Isaiah Thomas’ minutes

Isaiah Thomas did not play in an NBA game for 11 months so there are going to be times that he struggles to get things going and tonight was one of those nights.

Early in the second quarter, there was a spurt that Thomas played six minutes and in those six minutes, Denver was outscored by six points. Thomas could not get in any kind of rhythm. He managed to put up two points but was 1-4 from the field and also had two turnovers.

Thomas was forcing the ball into tight spots, attempted to shoot himself out of the slump and was attacked mercilessly on the defensive end.

Royce O’Neal made it a point to go after Thomas early in the game on both ends of the floor and Thomas attempted to respond, but failed to do so. He has been having a difficult time getting free and creating room to get his shot off.

“It is a fine line,” Malone said when referring to Thomas. “He is trying to find his rhythm and get comfortable with the ball in his hands and making plays. But he also has to understand how we play. Move the ball and get other guys involved.”

In the second half, it was much more of the same as Thomas still could not get going. He did not play in the third quarter, but started the fourth. Still, his play continued to spiral out of control on both ends of the floor.

Thomas finished with four points on the night on 2-6 shooting and a team worst -10 in 11 minutes. Malone will have to do a better job with his rotations and this might have been a game where he left the bench in a bit too long; specifically Thomas.