Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images
- The Jazz run blisteringly hot from the perimeter
- Nuggets miss easy shots in important moments to give Jazz fresh life
- MPJ gets it going with 28 points
- Jamal Murray needs to be more aggressive early
- The Nuggets need a better Paul Millsap in Game 3
Well, that game didn’t go well.
You knew the Utah Jazz were going to give the Denver Nuggets their absolute best in Game 2, and this was a virtuoso performance offensively by Donovan Mitchell and Utah. The Jazz at one point were leading by 31 points in the early fourth quarter after putting on a shooting clinic.
Don’t panic yet. The series is 1-1. Let’s talk about it:
A shooting performance for the ages from Utah
It felt like the Jazz hit everything today. At one point, they were 20/35 on threes before missing their final nine three-pointers in what amounted to garbage time. That above percentage equates to 57.1%, and it felt like even higher.
I don’t have the tracking data on hand, but it certainly felt like the Nuggets were contesting shots better throughout the game today than they were in Game 1. The defense was better. The numbers will not reflect that, but I have zero doubt in my mind that Denver was better defensively today. The Jazz just ran very hot.
The big question going forward will be whether the Jazz can maintain their hot shooting. The general consensus in Jazz land is that these two games were the best two performances of Donovan Mitchell’s career. Can he keep that going? How much does Mike Conley coming back affect how much he has the ball in his hands? How do the Jazz work in Conley overall? They’ve been starting a power forward in Juwan Morgan in his place and going big. Will going small again be the right call? Time will tell.
Nuggets miss opportunities for easy baskets
The Nuggets only scored 28 points in the paint today. Jokic had 12 of those points and did a nice job overall of creating those looks for himself. Murray assisted him on a couple of shots at the edge of the dotted line, but most of the time, he went to work in the post against Rudy Gobert or grabbed an offensive rebound after a missed shot.
But it can’t just be Jokic in the paint, or Jamal Murray getting to the rim a few times, or Michael Porter Jr. getting a paint touch here or there. Denver’s offensive identity has to come from the inside out for most of the game. The back cuts and flashes to the rim off ball just aren’t available, and when the Nuggets finally grab offensive rebounds, they struggle to convert those second chance opportunities. We’re going to get to him later, but Paul Millsap has to be better in this area more than anyone else. Only two rebounds today for Torrey Craig as well. Those guys have to be the ones creating the easy second chance points more than anyone else.
MPJ bounces back with a strong Game 2 performance
If there was any major silver lining to the blowout today, it was a bounce back game from Michael Porter Jr. and the high level shot making he displayed. 28 points on 10/17 from the field, including 6/9 from behind the arc. Defensively, the Jazz went at him frequently, but Porter seemed much more comfortable with the reads he had to make. It wasn’t perfect, and he still let up some open shots, but the points he scored on the other end more than made up the difference.
It’s very clear that Porter needs to be on the floor for Denver with Will Barton officially out of the bubble. Denver didn’t get the greatest offensive performances from Jokic or Murray today, and Porter stepped up to fill in the gaps. Now, the Nuggets need to figure out how to surround those three with the proper personnel to beat this Jazz team.
If Porter plays the way he did today for the rest of the series, then I think the Nuggets advance.
Jamal Murray needs to get going faster
Murray finished the game with 14 points on 6/13 from the field, four assists, and three turnovers. Through the first half, he had scored four points. Donovan Mitchell was doing something similar for the Jazz before hitting another gear in the third quarter. When Murray tried to hit that gear as well, something just wasn’t clicking.
Murray has proven he can score points in bunches and create offense at the highest level, but throughout most of Games 1 and 2, Murray has been more passive, waiting to pick and choose his opportunities to attack, trying to be a good second option to Nikola Jokic and avoid being selfish in the process.
The Nuggets need selfish Jamal Murray in my opinion, or at least a version that comes into the game trying to abuse whoever is guarding him. The Jazz utilized Royce O’Neale on Murray almost the entire time, and Murray couldn’t get to exactly where he needed to go because of it. O’Neale was very physical, and if Murray doesn’t use that against O’Neale going forward, the Nuggets will have a new issue in this series.
I trust Murray to watch the tape and understand that going into Game 3, and going forward, I think he will seek out his own opportunities a little more frequently.
Paul Millsap needs a big time performance in Game 3
If there’s one change the Nuggets will be seriously considering in Game 3, it’s whether to start Paul Millsap or Jerami Grant at power forward. With Mike Conley likely returning, the Jazz have another perimeter weapon they can utilize as a ball handler and shooter to space the floor for the Jazz offense. If the Nuggets plan on starting Porter and Millsap, one of those players will have to guard Ingles again, and Millsap hasn’t done a great job of playing weak side defense against Utah’s spaced out attack.
Grant offers Denver more defensive switch-ability, and there’s a reason Malone is going to him and away from Millsap more and more frequently in these games against the Jazz. The Nuggets need that perimeter defense and ability to contain against the Jazz. In addition, they need as much floor spacing as possible offensively, and I trust Grant’s outside jumper far more than Millsap’s as of today.
Whether Millsap starts or comes off the bench in Game 3, the Nuggets need him to be better. Thus far in the bubble, he has not been good. With Gary Harris and Will Barton out, Millsap is one of three remaining starters in Denver’s regular rotation and has to play like it. If he can’t, the Nuggets have to find someone who will.