The Nuggets flirted with a comeback, and Nikola Jokic hinted at a miracle.
That hope, despite Jokic’s seventh triple-double of the season, never met reality.
The Jazz stormed into Ball Arena on Wednesday and seized a 115-109 win over the depleted Nuggets. Jokic’s 26-point, 21-rebound, 11-assist night went for nothing as he couldn’t get the requisite help.
“26, 21 and 11, and you lose,” acting Nuggets coach Popeye Jones said. “You feel it for him. I think I’ve said it numerous occasions since I’ve been sitting here. Most superstars wouldn’t take it. … He’s a special guy.”
Donovan Mitchell (17 points) was largely kept in check, but sniper Bojan Bogdanovic pummeled the Nuggets for 36 points. The Jazz buried 14 3-pointers as a team and racked up 58 points in the paint. In other words, Denver’s defense failed to take away either of their vulnerabilities.
A clutch Monte Morris 3-pointer trimmed the deficit to just 94-91 with 7:21 left in the fourth quarter, but that was as close as they’d get. Morris was sensational after missing three consecutive games due to health and safety protocols. He finished with 20 points and five 3-pointers off the bench.
“Monte’s a really good player for us,” Jokic said. “… I’m really happy for him.”
The Nuggets fell to 18-18 on the season with another game Friday at home vs. Sacramento.
Mitchell knifed his way inside to spearhead a 20-9 run to open the third quarter and stretch Utah’s lead to 77-65. But Jokic, alongside various mismatched lineups, sawed into the deficit with his patented work inside. He was aided by the fact that Rudy Gobert missed Wednesday’s contest, but he didn’t shy in the face of double- and, sometimes, triple-teams.
He poured in 12 points in the quarter alone as the Nuggets fought tirelessly to stay close. Still, the Jazz carried an 88-78 lead into the fourth.
Prior to the game, Jones acknowledged Aaron Gordon’s recent hamstring issue was due to “overuse” but maintained he was good to play north of 30 minutes.
“I think it had been bothering him a little bit,” Jones said. “Guys, they keep playing…”
Gordon didn’t appear to be hampered in the least. With his trademark physicality, he pounded in 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting throughout the first two quarters. His inside presence changed the weight of the Nuggets’ attack, helping to combat the multifaceted Utah offense.
Jones had a healthy respect for the Jazz, who entered Wednesday leading the league in scoring (116 points per game) and 3-pointers (15.1).
“They’ve been playing together a while, and when you watch them, you just see the continuity that they play with,” he said. “The way that they move the ball and play. It’s a fun thing to watch, actually. Just gotta figure out how to slow it down a little bit.”
In 18 first-half minutes, Jokic controlled almost every aspect of the game. With 10 points and 10 rebounds, he went to the locker room just three assists shy of a triple-double.
Without his dominance, which was partially a product of Utah’s light interior, the Nuggets never would’ve maintained pace with the Jazz, who buried 10 3s in the opening half for a 57-56 lead at the break.
But Jokic’s complimentary play, specifically with Facu Campazzo, was special. The two ran an elite pick-and-roll, combining for 11 first-half assists and numerous highlight-reel dimes.
Even more noteworthy, the Ball Arena crowd has become attune to Jokic’s gift. During one no-look pass to Austin Rivers in the corner, the crowd buzzed to show their appreciation.