The Nuggets got out to an early lead against the Utah Jazz on Friday, taking a 27-21 lead after the first quarter behind 10 points by Chauncey Billups. They were running their offense, they were hitting their shots, and they even managed to keep the Utah crowd quiet.
Then Paul Millsap showed up, and things got very bad very fast for the Nuggets. Millsap went 8-8 from the field in the second quarter, with most of his points coming from finding seams in the Denver defense and taking the ball right at the basket. The Jazz took a four-point lead into halftime. They stretched the lead to 10 early in the third quarter, and never looked back.
The Jazz looked like a team who’s had the same coach for 22 years, and the Nuggets looked like a team struggling to get by with an interim coach. They didn’t have enough energy on defense. They got sloppy on offense, losing the turnover battle 14-7 and getting out-assisted 27-12. They folded when Utah took the lead and the crowd got going. The Nuggets didn’t execute at either end of the floor, and that’s what killed them on Friday.
The Nugget bigs had a terrible game, going 2-11 from the field against a thin and undersized Utah frontline. Anthony and Billups accounted for 25 points each, but no other Nugget was able to score in double figures. Affalo only got two shots. Smith went 3-9. Ty Lawson was able to beat the Jazz in the open court a few times and was the only Nuggets rotation player with a positive +/-, but it wasn’t enough.
Deron Williams and Paul Millsap were brilliant for the Jazz, combining for 46 points on 19-28 shooting from the field. (Millsap also added 19 rebounds.) Kyle Korver had a mark of +22 in 25 minutes and had more assists than any player on the Jazz.
You can break this game down all you want, but at the end of the day the Jazz played like they had a purpose and the Nuggets didn’t. The Nuggets are likely one of the two most talented teams in the conference. If they don’t start playing like there’s something at stake, they could easily find themselves in a 3-1 hole when they fly back to Denver.