For the Nuggets fifth game in seven days, they were on the second night of a back-to-back in snowy Salt Lake City where they were set to battle with divisional opponent Utah Jazz.
Almost everything was an advantage for the Jazz. Denver had flown all night while the Jazz had three days off. Denver had seven active players while the Jazz were mostly healthy. Denver was playing in Utah where they had not won since Ty Lawson was a member of the Nuggets.
Despite all of that, the Nuggets got their most impressive win in recent memory and with that, here is the good, great and ugly from Denver’s win in Utah.
Good – Nuggets somehow win despite everything being against them
Denver was playing their fifth game in seven days.
It was the second night of a back-to-back.
Denver had to fly overnight and landed in a snowy Salt Lake City where they have not won since Ty Lawson donned a Nuggets uniform.
Then, to make matters even worse, the Nuggets only had seven active players — Jamal Murray, Monte Morris, Gary Harris, Torrey Craig, Nikola Jokic, Vlatko Cancar and P.J. Dozier — and the only power forward or center on the roster was Jokic.
As a cherry on top, the Jazz had three days of rest prior to taking on Denver.
Somehow, despite all of that, the Denver Nuggets managed to beat the Jazz 98-95 behind some incredible defense, a full team effort, a gutsy performance from Murray despite lingering ankle pain, and a historic game by Jokic.
Murray finished with 31 points on 26 shots while shooting 4-9 from three-point range over a whopping 42 minutes despite it being crystal clear that he was not 100% healthy. Murray also added two rebounds, four assists, and one block for good measure, but what was most encouraging about Murray’s game was the fact that he was hunting three-point shots with more consistency. He needs to generate more triples and he has played with that thought process at the forefront of his mind.
Jokic also had a historic night, but more on him in a bit.
Morris also had a quiet, but extremely productive night. He finished with 15 points on 7-12 shooting to go with two rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block in 41 minutes as a starter. Denver does not win without his contributions.
Even Cancar was helpful as he played some strong defense and did an admirable job of playing backup center. Dozier also had himself a strong defensive performance in addition to his stat line of five points, three rebounds, one assist, and three steals.
No one gave the Nuggets a snowball’s chance in hell in Utah with so many things stacked against them. Regardless of how improbable the win was, the Nuggets came away with their ninth-straight win against their division which is the best mark in the Western Conference.
Simply stated, this was the Nuggets best regular season win since Michael Malone took over coaching duties of the team. What an incredible performance.
Great – Nikola Jokic’s historic game
30 points, 21 rebounds, 10 assists, and two steals in 39 minutes.
I still have not quite been able to wrap my head around that absolutely absurd stat line put up by Nikola Jokic in Denver’s completely improbable win over the Jazz, so instead of trying to verbalize how insane it is, let’s get some historical context, shall we?
Jokic is just the ninth player in NBA history to have 30+ points, 20+ rebounds, and 10+ assists in a single game joining Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, DeMarcus Cousins, George McGinnis, David Lee, and Billy Cunningham.
Jokic reached those numbers in just 39 minutes, which is tied for the fastest anyone has every accumulated at least 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a game.
Jokic is the third youngest player to ever reach those numbers after Jabbar and Oscar Robertson — who had five of those games before turning 25 years old.
All of those facts are incredible in their own right, but the Nuggets were without two starters and their entire five-man bench lineup. With just seven healthy players including Jokic, he decided he was going to carry the Nuggets to a win and that is exactly what he did.
This may have been the greatest game Jokic has ever played in the regular season.
Ugly – Denver only has seven active players
Prior to tip, Malone was having to look up rules about what happens if the Nuggets have a player foul out if Denver only have five active players because the Nuggets suddenly found themselves without half of their roster on the second night of a back-to-back against the Jazz.
First off, injuries have destroyed the Nuggets depth. They had Will Barton III miss the game with right knee inflammation. Jerami Grant was also out after spraining his right ankle just one night ago against the Trail Blazers. Michael Porter Jr. missed another game with a right ankle injury. Also, as usual, Paul Millsap (left knee contusion) and Mason Plumlee (right cuboid injury) continued to be out.
To make matters worse, the Nuggets agreed to trade away Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez and Jarred Vanderbilt in a four-team mega-trade that has not been finalized yet despite the deal being fully agreed to. Because of that, they have not gotten the benefit of utilizing the players they traded for. All three of Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh, or Keita Bates-Diop were not with the team in Utah.
That left the Nuggets with seven active players. They started Monte Morris, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Torrey Craig and Nikola Jokic with P.J. Dozier and Vlatko Cancar coming off of the bench.
Denver did not have a single power forward active and Jokic was their only center so Craig had to start at power forward and Cancer had to soak up minutes off the bench at power forward and center.
Despite that, Denver played well; especially in the first half. The odds were stacked against them, but Denver left it all on the court and came away with a shocking win.