Utah’s 2017-18 season opened with a bang as the Jazz caught fire in the second half to nail down a 106-96 come-from-behind victory over the Denver Nuggets in Salt Lake City.
The Jazz fell behind by as many as 15, but they hung around … and hung around … and hung around—until they took over down the stretch. Utah outscored Denver 28-13 in the fourth quarter.
Rudy Gobert had a team-high 18 points as six Jazz players scored in double figures (with three more scoring at least six points). Alec Burks scored 16 points in 15 minutes off the bench, while Derrick Favors had 14 and Joe Johnson had 13.
Denver’s Will Barton scored 21 of his game-high 23 points in the first half. Barton came off the bench and hit his first six shots, including three 3-pointers. Former Jazz forward Paul Millsap scored 19 points in his first game for the Nuggets, while Gary Harris added 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting.
Nuggets center Nikola Jokic struggled with only seven points on 3-for-10 shooting, though he did add 12 rebounds and eight assists in the loss.
The Jazz got the win despite only six points from Rodney Hood, who was a (very) late scratch from the starting lineup due to “gastric distress”. Rookie Donovan Mitchell drew the surprise start and then did a little bit of everything for the Jazz, finishing with 10 points (on 3-for-11 shooting), four assists, a block, and a +22 rating in 26 minutes. Hood—who’s expected to be the team’s leading scorer this season—came off the bench and made two 3-pointers in 18 minutes of action, but he was largely invisible in the opener.
This was a total team effort. It was Burks sinking shots from all over the court. Ricky Rubio and Thabo Sefolosha making life miserable for Denver’s ball handlers. Ekpe Udoh stabilizing Utah’s interior defense. Gobert and Favors attacking—and protecting—the rim. Mitchell showing a huge amount of poise in his first professional game. Joe Ingles dropping bombs from 3-point range. And Johnson—Utah’s 16-year veteran—making shots on offense (as always) and then banging with Jokic (who measures in at 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds) in the post on defense. The Jazz have one of the deepest, most talented rosters in the NBA, and tonight they used that depth to scrap and fight their way to a victory.
Trailing by 11 midway through the second quarter, the Jazz put together a quick 8-0 run to narrow the margin. Rubio hit a technical free throw. Ingles drilled a corner three (off a pass from Rubio). Gobert threw down a dunk (also off a pass from Rubio). Rubio forced a turnover, which led to a driving layup by Ingles (thanks to a screen from Gobert and—you guessed it!—a pass from Rubio).
The game looked to be slipping away as the Jazz fell behind by 12 late in the third quarter—but then they turned it around and absolutely blitzed the Nuggets the rest of the way. Utah closed the quarter on a 9-2 run, which was capped by Johnson’s leaning, banked-in 3-pointer that just beat the buzzer. Burks drove the baseline and slammed home two points to start the fourth, and Johnson got to the rim for a layup that pulled the Jazz within one and forced a Denver timeout.
Burks gave Utah the lead with a three from the top of the key, and Mitchell extended the lead with a transition layup. Burks drilled another three and then—after Udoh blocked a layup attempt by Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay—put in one of his trademark reverse layups. Sefolosha added two transition layups as the Jazz went on a 35-7 run between the 2:21 mark of the third quarter to the 3:44 mark of the final period.
The Jazz dished out 28 assists on 41 made baskets, with Rubio (10) and Ingles (six) leading the way. Last season, the Jazz ranked 28th (out of 30 teams) in the NBA in assists at 20.1 per game.
Utah converted Denver’s 21 turnovers into 31 points, while the Nuggets scored only 14 points off of Utah’s 15 turnovers. The Jazz grabbed nine steals as Ingles, Rubio and Sefolosha had two each.
It was a tale of two halves for the Nuggets, who shot 51.2 percent from the field (including 9-for-16 from 3-point range) in the first half but only 41.7 percent (and 4-for-11 on 3-pointers) in the second half.
Coach’s Quote of the Night
“For our group, [defense] is the one thing we have the most control over—trying to be disruptive but also disciplined at the same time. If we can generate offense from our defense, that’s a key part of how we’re going to score.”
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder
Hood was actually announced as the starter just moments before tipoff. … Rubio dished his 3,000th career assist, becoming the third-youngest player in NBA history to reach that benchmark (behind only John Wall and Chris Paul). … Utah outscored Denver 54-36 in the paint. … Ingles registered all 11 of his points and his six assists in the first half, despite playing 15 second-half minutes. … Jonas Jerebko, Royce O’Neale and Nate Wolters dressed but did not play for the Jazz. … Former Jazz forward Trey Lyles checked in for the final minute of the loss for the Nuggets. … Utah shot 93.8 percent (15-for-16) from the free-throw line.
The Jazz will hit the road to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday. Tipoff is set for 6:00pm MT.