SALT LAKE CITY – – Without Nikola Jokic injured on the pitch, Rudy Gobert gladly took center stage down the stretch.
Gobert had 23 points and 16 rebounds and Donovan Mitchell added 22 points to lead the Utah Jazz to a 122-110 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night in a game where Jokic left with a knee injury.
“When we share the ball in attack, our defense improves. I love when it happens and that’s when we play our best basketball, ”said Gobert, who had 14 points and eight rebounds in the fourth quarter.
His teammates have repeatedly found him near the hoop and the Nuggets have even tried Hack-a-Rudy to no avail. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year also bypassed Denver’s offense when it mattered most.
The reigning NBA MVP had 24 points in just 15 minutes in the first half before getting injured.
Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic have each contributed 15 for Jazz, which has gone 3-0 this season.
Two minutes before half-time, Jokic hit his knees with Gobert and stayed on the ground holding his right leg. He finally stood up with help and limped to the locker room. He will be examined again, but the initial injury report was a knee contusion.
Denver coach Michael Malone doesn’t think it’s too bad.
“I went to see Nikola as he was warming up at half-time. I said, “How are you feeling? He said ‘It’s a little weak’ and I just shut him up. I made the decision (out of his hands). It’s not his decision to make, ”said Malone. “He’s far too important to this team for us to risk him being there if he doesn’t feel confident about it. “
Will Barton scored 21, Aaron Gordon 20 and Monte Morris added 19 for the Nuggets, who fell to 2-2. After a period of lightless shots, Denver went 7 for 19 on the field in the fourth quarter.
“It was just difficult. You never really play without Nikola. It’s a big chunk of our attack. Just put the guys in different positions and (other) things. It was tough at times, ”Morris said of Denver’s mixed finish.
Denver took their last lead at 93-91 before Gobert fueled Utah’s decisive move. His free throws finished an 11-2 run and the Jazz stayed ahead the rest of the way.
“I was mad at myself for missing four free throws in the first half so it gave me a great opportunity to redeem myself,” said Gobert.
The game had a strong emotion unusual for a meeting at the start of the season. It overflowed with 4:57 remaining as Hassan Whiteside and JaMychal Green started pushing, banging and chewing – but not punching – before teammates and security parted the pair.
Both were penalized for technical fouls and expelled from the match.
“This is how I grew up. This is the best of New York basketball. We’re embracing it now as a group as well, ”Mitchell said. “The most important thing for us is to be able to keep performing while being pushed. “
Both teams have a recent history of shootouts, including a memorable streak in the 2020 NBA playoff bubble. It all had the same traits until the Nuggets ran out of gas. Denver also lost one game to Cleveland, 99-87, on Monday night in their back-to-back game.
The Jazz, who had the best regular season record last season, work with the same core group of players and have looked dominant for most of the first two games. But the Nuggets carved out Utah’s defense with ball swing, advantages over Jazz switches and precise shooting.
Gordon and Jokic combined to make their first 11 field goal attempts of the game, but the Nuggets turned into a series of ineffective one-on-one isolations as the Jazz secured lay-ups and free throws at the other end.
“It was a winnable game for us. We have given away a lot of goods – too much to earn, ”Gordon said.
Nuggets: Gordon was a force offensively but needed to sit down after committing his fourth foul in the third quarter. … The Nuggets recorded 62 turnovers in their first three games, but only had 13 against Utah. … Barton scored 16 points in the third quarter.
Jazz: Utah successfully challenges a blocking foul on Mitchell in the third quarter. … Mitchell was ranked 1 in 9 over the 3 point line. … Gobert made 8 of 10 free throws after making just one of his first six.
MARKING OF MILESTONES
Ingles scored his 1,000th 3-point career and Clarkson broke the 8,000-point mark. The pair were the two sixth man of the year finalists last season (Clarkson won the award). Utah coach Quin Snyder, although both of their contributions have been essential.
“Anytime Jordan balances and rides you think he’s going to come in… and I thought Joe, when they shifted or blitzed, was using his size and his ability to walk past, find people and make it easier to go. everyone. ”Snyder said.
Nuggets: Host the Dallas Mavericks on Friday.
Jazz: Visit the Houston Rockets on Thursday.