SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Once Utah got warmed up on the perimeter, Denver couldn’t do anything to cool the Jazz.
The long-distance barrage kept the Nuggets on their heels for the better part of four quarters and allowed Utah to scratch out a 114-108 win Wednesday night. Utah made 13 3-pointers before halftime – a franchise record for any half – and finished 19-of-46 (.413) from 3-point range.
“We knew they were going to be aggressive at the point of the pick and roll,” forward Jae Crowder said. “That’s what happened in the first half. We just moved the ball properly and got open shots and guys knocked them down.”
Donovan Mitchell made a season-high six 3-pointers and scored 35 points. He also dished out six assists.
That sort of stat line became a common theme among the Jazz players. Joe Ingles scored 14 points while hitting four 3-pointers and adding eight assists. Ricky Rubio hit a couple of clutch 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 17 points and six assists.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder credited Rubio with guiding the offense with a steady hand and spreading an unselfish mentality among his teammates.
“For us to have three guys with six, six, and eight assists speaks a lot to how we were moving the ball,” Snyder said. “Guys were spacing and ready to shoot the ball.”
Rudy Gobert had 15 points and 11 rebounds and Crowder also finished with 15 points for Utah, which won for the ninth time in 11 games.
Nikola Jokic scored 28 points and had 21 rebounds and six assists to lead the Nuggets, whose two-game winning streak ended despite shooting 42 of 88 – 48 percent – from the field. Will Barton added 22 points and a season-high nine rebounds.
“Some of us were not mentally ready to play this game,” Denver coach Micheal Malone said. “Some of us were not in tune to what we were trying to do defensively. We had breakdown after breakdown after breakdown.”
The Nuggets, who fell behind by double-digits in the first quarter, closed the gap and briefly overtook the Jazz when Barton made back-to-back baskets to cap a 9-0 run and give Denver a 31-30 lead early in the second quarter.
It didn’t last long. Rubio and Gobert scored on back-to-back plays to put Utah back in front less than a minute later. Denver tied it twice as the second quarter progressed, but the Jazz answered with seven 3-pointers over the final eight minutes of the half to stay in front. Mitchell scored four of those outside baskets and his final one of the quarter put Utah ahead 63-55.
Mitchell said making better reads on each play has helped him knock down shots in January that he didn’t make in October, November, and December.
“At the beginning of the year, I took tougher shots in all aspects,” Mitchell said. “That’s my mindset. Making it easier on myself. Finding the open guys and then I create lanes for myself.”
The Jazz shot 13 of 27 (.481) from the perimeter in the first half. Denver stayed within striking distance by getting nine baskets in the paint in both quarters. The Nuggets scored 36 points in the paint before halftime.
Utah didn’t cool enough from outside in the second half for it to have the effect Denver wanted. Rubio and Mitchell bookended an 11-2 run with 3-pointers that put the Jazz up 79-64 midway through the third quarter.
The Nuggets rallied and closed to within four at 111-107 on Barton’s 3 with 1:27 remaining. Gobert hit a pair of free throws on the other end, and then Mitchell blocked a layup attempt by Torrey Craig with 43.6 seconds left to help Utah halt the rally.
“We played the right way, but in some moments we had some breakdowns,” Jokic said.
The game got a bit heated early when Utah’s Derrick Favors and Denver’s Mason Plumlee were both ejected with 2:46 left in the first quarter. The two shoved each either under the Nuggets basket, leading to more shoving from multiple players on both teams. Favors and Plumlee each received a technical foul, as did Utah’s Royce O’Neale and Denver’s Will Barton for pushing and shoving in the scrum.
Favors finished with two rebounds and zero points in five minutes. Plumlee tallied two points, a rebound and a block in four minutes.
Jokic recorded his second 25-20 game of the season while posting his 14th double-double in the Nuggets’ last 19 games. He also finished with a team-high six assists.
“I feel like we can beat anybody in the league, obviously, when we play the right way. We have a game plan for it. Our coaches do a very good job of preparing us and we’re very confident in ourselves, our work, and how we approach the game.” – Crowder on Utah’s strong offensive performance.
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