The Jazz ripped open a wound Wednesday and revealed exactly what makes the Nuggets vulnerable this postseason.
Denver’s perimeter defense, which had been its biggest concern over eight seeding games in Orlando, let them down.
Utah bludgeoned the Nuggets, 124-105, to even the first-round playoff series at 1-1. The Jazz dissected Denver’s defense with 45% outside shooting to the tune of 20 3-pointers.
It was the kind of drubbing that often leads to some pointed locker room conversation in the aftermath. Honest assessments from Nuggets coach Michael Malone are coming between now and Friday’s Game 3.
Guard Donovan Mitchell followed up his extraordinary Game 1 with another relentless assault. He led the Jazz with 30 points, going 6-of-7 from 3-point range and was one of four Jazz players with at least three 3-pointers. Joe Ingles and Jordan Clarkson added four each.
Nikola Jokic was the lynchpin down low, with 28 points and 11 rebounds, though his consistent scoring couldn’t overcome the Nuggets’ many defensive lapses. Sensational rookie Michael Porter Jr. added 28. He looked much more like the stretch forward that made the all-Bubble team than the one who struggled in his playoff debut on Monday.
Game 1 star Jamal Murray was noticeably quieter after the Jazz adjusted and gave lankier wing Royce O’Neale the primary defensive cover. He only managed 14 points in an otherwise unremarkable performance.
After Mitchell’s historic 57-point eruption on Monday, he underscored how devastating he can be by drilling the Nuggets for 21 points in the third quarter Wednesday. Mitchell rained 3-pointers with the rest of his team, then cut up Denver’s interior with his devastating drives. Denver’s transition defense, not to mention its communication, were noticeably absent while Utah hung 43 points on them in the third period to blow the game open.
That included nine 3-pointers in the quarter.
Heading into Game 2, Malone emphasized to his team that they were not to be outrebounded, especially on the offensive glass, as they had been in Game 1.
“We had too many examples of when the shot is taken, we have a lot of guys that are turning and ball watching, instead of finding bodies, hitting someone,” Malone said. “I think just a more physical mindset, and making it a real point of emphasis that we are finding and hitting bodies, instead of just watching the flight of the ball because as we were watching, they were crashing from the corners, from the perimeter.”
Denver rebounded well in the first half, but failed to capitalize on one comical sequence that involved four offensive rebounds and five separate looks. It was symbolic of the effort, but not the execution, Malone was looking for.
Utah closed the first half on a 22-6 run and headed to the break feeling great about its chances with a 13-point halftime lead. Gobert ended the half with back-to-back momentum plays, first stuffing Jokic’s floater attempt and then slamming a put-pack opportunity to close the quarter.
Outside of Jokic and Porter, who combined for 27 points, Denver didn’t have much else to be pleased with across a disjointed half.