The Denver Nuggets scared up a lot of old demons on Thursday night but things weren’t nearly as dismal as they may have looked.
At 42-19, the sky is certainly not falling for the Denver Nuggets but losing to the rival Utah Jazz stings, regardless of circumstances. Denver overcame most of an 18-point deficit in the second-half to acquit themselves but still bowed 111-104.
First, the good news: The Nuggets won three of the four quarters in the game. It was that 33-15 second quarter that had Nuggets fans and a national TNT audience scratching their heads. Just two nights earlier, on the same national stage, Denver had a coming-out party of sorts in a dominating win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now, the bad news:
That second quarter saw Utah swingman Joe Ingles clowning Nuggets fans, their coach and anyone the hot-shooting Aussie could engage. It made a superhero of Jazz reserve Royce O’Neale and it created an insurmountable deficit. The Jazz and coach Quinn Snyder (who looks like a Dick Tracy villain) pride themselves on defense. They have the reigning DPOY in Rudy Gobert and while they may have let Denver back in to the game, they would not surrender their side of the court.
Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap shot a combined 2-8 from the free throw line. It happens, players have off-nights at the line but missing and-one opportunities and Murray missing two in the middle of the Nuggets comeback attempt is just disappointing. Not alarming, not a weakness, just disappointing.
There was a glass is half-full feel to Murray’s performance, he scored 21, shot 50% from the floor, including from three, had four rebounds and three assists. It was a solid game but it felt like Jamal was taken a bit out of his game.
Speaking of being taken out of his game, Nuggets All-Star Nikola Jokic was frustrated by Gobert and Jazz forward Jae Crowder. After a big game against Steven Adams on Tuesday, Nikola struggled. He had foul trouble, he had five turnovers. Funny when a bad game from your center is 16 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. How many NBA teams would take that night-in and night-out?
Will Barton had one of those games that reminds you why he’s so important to the Denver Nuggets. In the third quarter, Barton was everywhere and Denver’s comeback was almost exclusively Thrill’s. Barton drives Denver fans crazy with his eclectic play but on Thursday, the Nuggets would have been blown out if not for Will’s contribution. He has a knack for attacking a defense and producing improbable points. It was a welcome sight from Barton who has been inconsistent since coming back from injury.
Two things that struck me, speaking of Barton, it seems like coach Michael Malone replaced him at just the moment the Nuggets were getting over the hump against Utah. It also seems that Malone stuck with the three-guard rotation lineup far too long in both halves. I’m not sure what’s going on with Isaiah Thomas but he seems listless and uninvolved on offense, whether that’s him or the team struggling to involve him remains to be seen.
Monte Morris looked like the big moments caught up with the outstanding second-year player. His usually sound floater failed him as he scored just two points on 1-for-6 shooting. Again, Morris wasn’t terrible, just indicative of the general malaise that infected the Nuggets.
It looked like they were ill-prepared for Utah’s intensity but even then, they were in the game at the end. We can only hope that Thursday night serves as a lesson for the young Nuggets.