In the first few minutes the Nuggets allowed the Jazz four of their first six points on uncontested lay-ups as a result of defensive breakdowns. The Nuggets then buckled down defensively over the next five minutes and opened up a 20-11 lead after Nene stole an outlet pass before being rewarded on sneaky shuttle pass from J.R. Smith. The Prodigy scored 13 of the Nuggets’ first 25 points and handed out two assists to Nene. A lot of credit needs to be given to the Jazz though for fighting back and getting the game to within four, 27-23, before the Nuggets surged again in the final four minutes of the first quarter finishing with the lead, 35-26. The Nuggets shot a blistering 56% from the field in the first quarter and made eight of their ten free-throw attempts.
Once the second quarter started we saw the reinsertion of J.R. Smith and his hot hand. J.R. opened up with three-pointer that made the Nuggets 7-9 from the field to start the quarter as they opened up a 15-point lead, 45-27, with 8:22 remaining. Once again the Jazz cut the Nuggets’ down to ten on three separate occasions during the quarter, but on each of the ensuing possessions the Nuggets were able to answer with buckets, including a banked-in three by Linas Kleiza. LK hit two three's in the second with the second preserving a nine-point lead heading into halftime, 60-51. J.R. led all scorers at the half with 16 points and three assists while Anthony Carter provided a tremendous, although quiet, six assists for the Nuggets. Linas Kleiza added eleven points and a team-high five rebounds and Nene chipped in ten points on 5-5 shooting.
What I really liked about the first half was the Nuggets defense. Denver held the Jazz to just 41 % (17-41) from the field and cashed in for seven points on Utah’s ten turnovers. The Nuggets were also doing a tremendous job limiting their miscues committing just four turnovers in the first half.
To say that the Nuggets absolutely demolished the Jazz in the first half of the third quarter would be an understatement of epic proportions. Up by 20, 80-60, with 6:30 remaining, Denver was firing on all cylinders immediately as the half got underway. Chauncey Billup drained a three to get things going right out of the gate and then drew a foul and cashed three free-throws on a cagey move on C.J. Miles before J.R. Smith provided the bookends on yet another assist to the Big Brazilian with a pair of three’s.
But once again, I have to give the Jazz a lot of credit for rallying back and trimming the Denver lead to just thirteen, 83-70, with under four minutes to play in the third quarter. Although much of this lead was given back by the Nuggets missing six of their first ten free-throws and 10-19 attempts in the quarter, the Jazz comeback was short-lived after the Nuggets extended their lead back to 14 points, 91-77, entering the fourth quarter. Chauncey Billups scored ten points in the third despite still shooting a dreadful 3-11 from the field thanks to making the Jazz pay from the free-throw line where he was 7-8 for the quarter and 10-12 overall after three quarters.
The Nuggets extended their lead to 22 points with six minutes and change remaining in regulation after Nene tied Bobby Jones’ franchise record set in 1978 for most field goals made without a miss (12-12). The field goal also tied Nene’s career-high point total of 28 points set against the Sacramento Kings back in 2004. George Karl pulled Nene and the rest of his starting crew shortly thereafter as the win was cemented. Denver eventually won, 117-97, much to my delight and the dismay of our good friends over at True Blue Jazz. By the way, be sure to head over there after reading here and jab the ribs of CB Jack, Hammy, Booner, Scrumtrulescent, and Pick-N-Roll.
Three starters scored 20+ points led by Nene’s aforementioned career-high tying 28 points and nine rebounds. Big Brazil also finished with four steals. Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith each added 22 points with the Prodigy handing out six assists and Mr. Big Shot blocking two shots. Linas Kleiza was a huge shot in the arm off the bench finishing with 18 points and eight rebounds and Anthony Carter also deserves mention for his team-high nine assists despite a horrid night shooting the basketball 1-9 from the field. Anytime the Nuggets beat the Jazz it's special, but Coach George Karl reached a nice milestone notching his 200th win with the Nuggets to sweeten this win just a little bit more.
Up next for the Nuggets is taste of southern cookin’ as they have a back-to-back double dip on the road starting with Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday followed by the New Orleans Hornets the next night. The Nuggets are now 29-15 overall and still hold a 4 1/2 game lead over the Jazz and a 2 1/2 game lead over the Blazers for first place in the Northwest Division. Denver is 28-12 after their 1-3 start to the season and 5-3 without Carmelo Anthony in the line-up. The win also improves Denver's record when holding their opposition to under 100 points to 15-2.
God bless you, Chauncey. God bless you.