The Denver Nuggets were outplayed in Tuesday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Their defense was not good, they were out-hustled on both sides of the ball and the Nuggets struggled to score the basketball.
Denver looked to turn that around in Thursday’s nationally televised game against the Utah Jazz, but Denver would have to do so while missing three starters and their only backup center.
Utah got out to a lead at halftime, but the Nuggets put together an awe-inspiring second half where Denver looked to Nikola Jokic to close Utah out and ensure the victory. Utah made a late-push and had a chance to win the game but Jokic and the Nuggets ended up being too much.
Here is the good, great and awesome as the Nuggets pull off the 106-100 victory over Utah and slide back into second place in the Western Conference standings.
Good – Torrey Craig’s energy
The Nuggets started out the game a bit sluggish on offense and also were not getting any stops.
Denver’s offense could not get going and the pace was down as the Jazz got open look after open look. Head coach Michael Malone typically inserts Craig into the game to give the Nuggets a jolt of energy, but with so many players injured, Craig had to start the game and his efforts were felt on both ends of the court. He was able to set the tone in the first quarter for Denver.
Craig led the Nuggets in scoring after the first quarter as he had a team-high eight points in the opening frame. He went 4-4 from the field and also secured two rebounds as well.
The defense also started to pick up when he got into the game.
Craig is a player that Malone puts in the game to defend the opposing team’s best player. Craig did not allow Donovan Mitchell to score in the first quarter and forced the ball out of his hands early. Mitchell only took one shot in the opening frame and struggled all night long due to Craig’s defense. Mitchell finished with only four points on 1-12 shooting.
The Nuggets trailed 21-21 at the end of the opening frame, but Denver’s defense is what kept them in the game early. The Nuggets forced eight turnovers in the first quarter and Craig’s hot start offensively while slowing down Mitchell helped the Nuggets remain in the game and within striking distance early on.
Great – Bench unit flips the game
The Nuggets are still getting acclimated to one another and are still looking to find some momentum; specifically on the offensive side of the ball, but those facts do not get any easier when Denver is without three starters due to various injuries.
Jamal Murray is still dealing with an ankle injury, Paul Millsap has missed the last 11 games with knee issues and Gary Harris did not play due to personal reasons so the Nuggets have had to make adjustments to the starters which also affected the bench.
Denver’s bench did not fare well in the first half.
In the first half, Utah had a 23-7 bench advantage which had the Nuggets playing catch up early on, but they turned things around in the third quarter and gave the Nuggets their largest lead of the game.
Michael Porter Jr. led the bench in scoring and hit both of his 3-pointers in the third quarter. PJ Dozier also had a solid second half and continues to prove that he belongs.
Dozier finished with six points and was a game-high +13. He ran the second unit, gave great energy on defense and also remained aggressive on offense. He hit a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer that gave the Nuggets the momentum to close out the game.
Awesome – Stellar second half
The Nuggets started out a bit slow, but opened up their lead in the second half.
First, the Nuggets bench unit put together a great third quarter that they won 33-22 which gave the Nuggets the lead. In the fourth quarter Denver put the Jazz away.
Utah played their third game in four nights and was also on the second night of a back-to-back so fatigue was a factor heading into the game. Because of that, the Nuggets began to run in the second half and converted at the rim which pushed the Jazz to try to match their energy and string along runs of their own.
Utah attempted to also get out and run which got them within three points late, but they just did not have enough left in the tank to overcome the Nuggets late-game rally.
Jokic and Rudy Gobert had a great battle between the two All-Star big men. Gobert finished with 21 points and also had 11 rebounds and three blocks. Jokic had 28 points to go along with four rebounds and saved his best for last. When the Nuggets needed him most, he delivered. Jokic finished with 13 points in the fourth quarter and closed the Jazz out.
Craig had arguably his best game of the season finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds and held Mitchell to only four points on 1-12 from the field.
Jerami Grant also played well. He had 15 points in the game and hit a big shot for the Nuggets in the fourth quarter to help the Nuggets sustain the lead.
The Nuggets continue to find ways to win games without their team at full strength and, with them getting closer to the All-Star break, hopefully they can come back on the other side ready to finish off the season strong.