So incendiary was the Denver Nuggets’ first half on Sunday that Rudy Gobert could be forgiven for accidentally inflating a few of their numbers a bit.
“I mean, it’s tough to win a game against a good team when you give up 80 points in the first half, and that’s what we did tonight,” the Utah Jazz center said Sunday afternoon. “… They shot 100% from 3 — I think they missed one 3 in the first half.”
Just for the sake of statistical and historical accuracy, the Nuggets “only” scored 79 first-half points, and “only” hit 15 of 17 attempts from 3-point range (88.2%). Then again, with numbers as obscene as those, numbers which precipitated a 128-117 Denver win at Ball Arena that snapped Utah’s 11-game winning streak, such quibbles are pretty meaningless and beside the point anyway.
Of course such shooting was out of character for the Nuggets, and of course such efficient proficiency didn’t last.
The problem is, hot-shooting outlier or not, the Jazz compounded it with a less-than-stellar effort of their own on the defensive end before halftime.
Denver’s 29-of-44 shooting (65.9%) in the first half didn’t simply happen completely by accident.
“There was a lot of tough shots, but maybe you can take them away altogether, maybe you can make people more uncomfortable. I didn’t think we had the edge that we’ve had defensively,” said coach Quin Snyder. “Hats off to Denver for making those plays, of course. But I thought In the second half, we came out with more of an edge. We cross-matched, we played zone, we doubled, we played man. But ultimately, we have to play with more of an edge and more urgency [earlier on], and [then] maybe it’s 13 of 17, maybe it’s 10 of 17.”
Donovan Mitchell, back after a two-game absence due to a concussion, agreed.
Looking at the raw first-half numbers in a vacuum is hard enough, he said; looking at the effort — or lack thereof — which made them possible is worse still.
Yes, the Nuggets made some difficult shots. But the Jazz didn’t feel as though they made things difficult enough in general.
“You look at the end result and think about how they got to those points: Were we pushing them out of their spots? Where are they catching the ball? Where are they starting their possession? Are we pressuring the ball?” Mitchell said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. Great offense beats great defense 10 times out of 10, but at the end of the day, I think it’s a matter of how they got to those spots. Are we helping? Are we picking up? Are we doing the little things? As opposed to saying, ‘Man, they shot 15 of 17,’ let’s just be more aggressive before we get to that point.”
That lack of aggression and physicality certainly cost them.
Nikola Jokic had 22 points in the first quarter and 33 by halftime en route to a 47-point, 12-rebound, five-assist performance on the night, in which he shot 17 of 26 overall and 4 of 4 beyond the arc.
Certainly he’s been lighting up the league this season and is an incredible offensive talent. But on Sunday, Utah aided his cause by closing out short against him, by not doubling soon enough.
“Everybody in our locker room has to believe that we can do better. And I think we are capable of doing better,” Snyder said. “[Jokic] had a lot of space to operate. … But I think if you ask Rudy, I think Rudy would say that he could do better. And we all can helping him.”
Gobert wasn’t about to argue.
“He got it going early. I should have done a much better job. He scored way too easily, especially in the first half,” the Frenchman said. “The second half was much better, but when someone’s scored  in the first half, it’s tough to be in a position where you can win the game. I take full responsibility for that. The team relies on me, and I’ve got to come out better.”
The Jazz did, indeed, eventually get things turned around a bit: Denver shot just 18 of 43 (41.9%) overall post-halftime and went just 3 for 11 beyond the arc. Utah’s own second-half surge beyond the arc cued a comeback that saw them get as close as 99-91 late in the third quarter.
Still, it seemed as though so much energy was expended just getting the game even that close that the Jazz didn’t have much left to make another run at it in the fourth.
Gobert acknowledged that trying to slow the Nuggets down after they got rolling was “a battle,” how the Jazz wanted “to keep doing what you do and not overreact,” but how seeing one 3 after another go in eventually led to chasing Denver off the line, only to enable them to score in the paint.
Still, that idea of not overreacting remains a good big-picture idea for the season as whole. Yes, the Jazz’s 11-game streak is over, and yes, at 15-5, they’re now in just second place in the Western Conference.
But they still hit 20 3-pointers of their own, they still hit 42.6% from beyond the arc, they still held Denver to 49 points post-halftime.
And they will surely treat allowing 80 … er, 79 points before it as a necessary learning experience.
“As a top defensive team in the league, that shouldn’t happen,” Gobert said, “and we’re gonna make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
Nuggets 128, Jazz 117
Bogdanovic 8-13 8-10 29, O'Neale 4-4 0-0 12, Gobert 4-7 4-8 12, Conley 2-10 7-7 12, Mitchell 3-12 4-4 13, Brantley 0-1 0-0 0, Favors 2-3 3-3 7, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0, Niang 1-4 0-0 2, Oni 1-1 0-0 3, Ingles 3-7 2-2 10, Clarkson 4-13 1-1 13, Harrison 0-0 4-4 4. Totals 32-75 33-39 117.
Barton 6-11 1-2 18, Millsap 4-6 0-0 10, Jokic 17-26 9-10 47, Harris 0-0 0-0 0, Murray 7-16 0-0 16, Bol 0-0 0-0 0, Cancar 0-1 0-0 0, Porter Jr. 4-7 2-2 11, Green 4-7 0-0 9, Nnaji 0-1 0-0 0, Campazzo 3-5 3-4 11, Hampton 0-0 0-0 0, Howard 0-2 0-0 0, Morris 2-5 1-1 6. Totals 47-87 16-19 128.
Utah 29 25 37 26 — 117
Denver 43 36 24 25 — 128
3-Point Goals_Utah 20-47 (Bogdanovic 5-10, O’Neale 4-4, Clarkson 4-11, Mitchell 3-8, Ingles 2-4, Conley 1-6, Niang 0-3), Denver 18-28 (Barton 5-6, Jokic 4-4, Millsap 2-2, Campazzo 2-4, Murray 2-6, Green 1-2, Howard 0-2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Utah 37 (Gobert 8), Denver 38 (Jokic 12). Assists_Utah 28 (Conley 8), Denver 28 (Barton 6). Total Fouls_Utah 21, Denver 27.