The Denver Nuggets had just gotten manhandled by the Cleveland Cavaliers at home. You knew this team wouldn’t lie down and roll over. Through 3.5 quarters they didn’t. Even after losing their MVP.

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The Denver Nuggets had it stacked against them in Utah. No Jamal Murray, 2nd leg of a back-to-back, Utah coming off 4 days rest, and losing Nikola Jokic to a knee contusion less than halfway through the contest. Aaron Gordon going for 16 in the first half, and Will Barton dropping 16 of his 21 in the 3rd kept this Nuggets squad in it until the end. This game was 96-95 at 9:08 left in the 4th. Thankfully it seems Joker avoided serious injury.

This is where things went left for the Denver Nuggets. After the 9:08 mark in the 4th, Utah went on a 26-15 run to close the game and secure a 122-110 division win. When you look at the box score you get an idea of just how good this Nuggets squad was at scoring, all 5 starters in double digits, all but one with at least 19 points, 3 with at least 20. Problems came on the defensive end where Aaron Gordon drew 5 fouls, MPJ drew 3, and they gave up more than 100 points for the first time.

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Obviously, Gordon’s foul trouble curbed his defensive efficiency late, 4 of the 5 came in the second half. But the effort on the defensive end fell off a cliff once Joker was helped off the court after banging knees with Rudy Gobert. The Jazz had 7 players in double digits, 3 off the bench. Tim Conley hit from deep and facilitated at ease dropping 15 pts/5 asts/1 stl/1 blk. Jordan Clarkson had 19 off the bench showing why he was the NBA 6th-Man-of-the-Year in 2020/2021. And Rudy Gobert got his 3rd double/double in as many games with 23 pts/16 rebs and added a block for good measure.

The Denver Nuggets actually outshot Utah from three with a 35% to 31% edge, but Utah jacked up 11 more of them with 39 to Denver’s 28. They also made 12 to Denver’s 10, unlike Denver who had multiple possessions where they turned the ball over because they made one too many passes while they fought over who would actually take the shot. Utah was just pulling up and letting it fly, no matter how inefficient they may have been.

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You also saw the difference at the offensive boards, when the Nuggets took a shot, all but maybe 1 player would bail to the other end, no one would crash. When Utah was on offense, you would see 3-4 crashing the boards almost every time. Defense in the NBA is about effort more than anything, Utah had it, just like Cleveland did, and Denver didn’t, at least not for 4 full quarters. There were flashes in the first 3 quarters, the Nuggets kept it close throughout that time.

Though I do not condone the way Bol Bol has gone about expressing his frustration with his lack of floor time at points. I also don’t think he’s done anything that bad. If you were that talented watching your team lose back-to-back games, you would be frustrated too. I get why he is so upset, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside bullied the Nuggets in the paint once Jokic hit the bench for good and JaMychal Green was ejected with Hassan Whiteside for shoving each other. The Nuggets sorely needed size and paint D, why not give the kid some minutes?

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It seems there is some internal strife brewing between Bol and this coaching staff, but feelings should not interfere with winning basketball games. Especially against a division rival, you will most likely be fighting for seeding with by the end of the season. These games are early, but they still count. It seemed by the fourth quarter Coach Malone conceded their fate and just let the starters burnout down the stretch. All starters except Jokic, due to injury, had at least 34 minutes on the floor.

Even if the coaching staff was sending a message to Bol, what about Zeke Nnaji, or some scoring in the form of Bones Hyland? It was strange to see this team get bullied after losing two bigs and Malone do nothing to replace them with options on his bench that were healthy, young, and hungry. These are the situations evaluators dream of. And the Nuggets missed the boat.

I have no doubt we have a different outcome with Joker on the floor for the whole game, but that wasn’t in the cards. You have to play the ones you were dealt, this time, the Nuggets came up short in the Utah Rockies.

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