Nuggets lose to Jazz as comeback attempt falls short

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) passes the ball past Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center.
Feb 28, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) passes the ball past Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets comeback attempt fell just short Thursday night as the Utah Jazz walked out of Pepsi Center with 111-104 victory.

With the loss, Denver’s record now sits at 42-19, which puts them a half game behind Golden State for first place in the Western Conference.

In what ended up being a tough loss for Denver, it did not start how it finished as the Nuggets opened the game extremely intense on the defensive end to the floor. Through one quarter of play, Denver held Utah to just 19 points on 30 percent shooting from the field. On the flip side of that, the Nuggets scored just 22 first quarter points on 44 percent shooting from the field.

Even though the Nuggets were not scoring the ball well through one quarter of play, their defense was picking up the slack in a big way. One of the players who really stepped up on that end of the floor was Jamal Murray as his energy was contagious amongst the rest of Denver’s starting five. Murray’s defense really set the tone as the Nuggets just needed to find a way to get their offense going in the second quarter to complement it.

That would not be the case though as Denver continued to struggle on offense, which allowed Utah to open the second quarter on a 10-2 run. That run gave the Jazz a five-point lead as Denver was still in the game even though their offense could not find any sort of rhythm. The Nuggets struggles continued to close the half though as Utah took a 52-37 lead into the halftime locker room, while also handing Denver their lowest first half point total all season.

Utah dominated on both ends of the floor in the second quarter as they outscored Denver 33-15 to give themselves a 15-point lead at the break. Joe Ingles led Utah’s offense with 12 points at the half, while Denver was led by Murray and Nikola Jokic, who each had seven points a piece. Through two quarters, the Nuggets shot 34 percent from the field and were just 1-of-13 from three-point range, while Utah was up to 41 percent shooting to go along with their eight three-pointers.

The Nuggets woes offensively continued to start quarter number three, unitil Murray took over to get Denver back into the game. Murray had 10 of the Nuggets first 14 points of the quarter, including two makes from three-point land. Utah still led by 13-points with 6:39 left in the third quarter, but Murray’s offense provided a spark that the Nuggets desperately needed.

Even with Murray heating up, the Nuggets now had a Kyle Korver problem as the Jazz’s sharp-shooter was scoring from everywhere on the floor. Korver had 14 points behind four three-pointers at the midway point of the third quarter as Denver’s deficit stayed at 13-points. Then, Will Barton came to life for — with six-straight points and a block on the defensive end of the floor — as the Nuggets were finally back in the game.

Momentum was slowly starting to trickle back in the Nuggets favor as they closed the quarter strong to cut Utah’s lead to 11-points through three quarters. It took Denver just three and a half minutes into the fourth quarter to make it a five-point game, before Utah went on a quick 7-0 run to make it a double-digit game again.

Utah would add two more three-pointers just a few possessions later as the Nuggets were suddenly down 97-79 with just over six minutes left in the game. That seemed like the proverbial nail in the coffin for Denver’s comeback, but the Nuggets never gave up as they made it a four-point game at the 1:51 mark after a Murray three-pointer.

Paul Millsap added another three-pointer on Denver’s next possession, but Donovan Mitchell quieted the Nuggets crowd with a jumper to bump Utah’s lead back up to five points with under a minute remaining. That would be it for Denver as the Jazz hit some free-throws down the stretch and made enough stops to walk out of Pepsi Center with a 111-104 victory.

Stat leaders for Denver were Murray, who had a solid game finishing with a stat line of 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field to go along with four three-pointers. Barton also had a great night finishing with a double-double of 21 points and 13 rebounds. Mason Plumlee also had a great night for Denver as he filled in for Jokic (foul trouble) most of the second half. Plumlee finished with a stat line of 11 points, nine rebounds, and six assists, while Jokic had a double-dobule of 16 points and 13 boards.

Denver now has a day off tomorrow before they close out their current four-game home-stand Saturday night against the New Orleans Pelicans.

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