Emptying the Noggin — Defense and depth win it for the Jazz
SUMMARY: A remarkable defensive effort sparked a mammoth 3rd quarter run that ultimately led the Jazz to a 10-point win over the Denver Nuggets, 106-96.
• The question tonight was this: What happens when a great defensive team plays a great offensive team? The Denver offense — which was #1 in the NBA for the last 30 games of last season — was dictating the game for most of the night and led 70-55 in the 3rd quarter. Then, the Jazz’s defense started to take hold by forcing turnovers and flustering the Nuggets’ offense, which whittled the Denver lead down to just five points by the end of the 3rd quarter. The clamps came down full force in the 4th quarter and the Jazz flipped the game entirely.
• The Jazz trailed 70-55 and then led by 103-88 after starting the 4th quarter on a 25-5 run.
• Defense and depth were the story for the Jazz. The Jazz bench’s plus-minus numbers were incredible: Thabo Sefolosha was +25, Ekpe Udoh was +24, Donovan Mitchell was +22 and Alec Burks was +16.
• Alec Burks was terrific in the 4th quarter. He had 10 points in the 4th, hitting two major threes. On the first, the Nuggets went under a pick and Burks rose up and buried the three. He got another look in transition and buried it. Finally, he ball-faked a three on the right wing and drove down the baseline to hit a reverse flip to bring the arena to its feet and force the Nuggets into another timeout.
• The Jazz got great offensive balance tonight. Rudy Gobert led the Jazz with 18 points, Burks had 16, Favors had 14, Johnson had 13, Ingles had 11, Mitchell had 10, Rubio had 9 and Sefolosha had 7 points.
• Each player had spurts in the game to keep the Jazz’s offense going. Ingles hit three 3-pointers in the first half, Favors scored eight straight points to open the 3rd quarter, Joe Johnson was the key late in the 3rd quarter and Alec Burks was a beast in the 4th quarter.
• The Jazz’s defense was incredible. They held a great offensive team to less than one point per possession, allowing just 35 points in the second half.
• The Jazz did this very differently than they did it last year. Last season, the Jazz’s defense was a shell defense that forced bad shots and ran people into Rudy Gobert. Tonight, Utah forced 21% of Denver’s possession into turnovers. Last year, the Jazz were 25th in the NBA in forcing turnovers at 11%.
• Denver is a tough match-up for the Jazz as Nikola Jokic pulls Gobert out of onto the floor and this caused the Jazz a ton of problems in the first half. Denver was knocking down shots and scoring at an alarming rate. The Jazz addressed this in the second half and shut down the Nuggets.
• Rodney Hood was announced as a starter and was then unable to play due to gastric distress which forced rookie Donovan Mitchell into the starting lineup. Hood never got going and the Jazz were a -13 when he was on the floor. Hood went 2 of 4 from the field in 27 minutes.
• The new timeout rules had a big impact on the game tonight. When the Jazz starting to blow the game open, Mike Malone called an early timeout in the 4th quarter but then was down to only two timeouts for the rest of the game. He tried to avoid calling another one as the run continued because he didn’t want to be down to one and the Jazz kept their momentum. Denver is a young team with inexperienced point guard play. The new rules could be very difficult for a team with this type of make up on the road. The veteran presence the Jazz added may turn out to be very valuable with the new timeout rules.
• What an opening night. The first 30 minutes were every fan’s worst case scenario of what the Jazz might look like and the final 18 were beyond what Jazz fans could imagine.