We played well enough in the first half to win the game, but the second half was just, I don’t know what it was. —Al Jefferson
DENVER — It's hard to pinpoint a blowout on any particular play, but one moment in the Utah Jazz's 110-91 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night certainly stands out more than the 150-plus others.
Before the Jazz played like they were waving a white towel in a merciful plea, a wave of another sort completely changed the complexion of this Northwest Division showdown at the Pepsi Center.
Near the end of the third quarter, Gordon Hayward leaped to the rim and slammed the ball in. But while Hayward soared approximately 5,290 feet above sea level, Denver's Kenneth Faried quickly closed in.
Hayward clutched the rim while Faried flew by the suspended-in-thin-air Jazz shooting guard, causing the ball to rattle around before falling into the net.
Had it been deemed legal, the play would've cut the Nuggets' lead to 80-74.
Instead, referee Bennie Adams waved off the basket, claiming Hayward had engaged in offensive goaltending.
"I knew that someone was going to try and come and block it. I thought there was going to be some contact and I think there was a little contact and that's why I hung on to the rim," Hayward said. "I didn't want to get undercut or anything. For whatever reason, I think he thought that me hanging on the rim caused the ball to go in, so I guess you've got to live with that."
Making matters worse — much worse — former University of Utah star Andre Miller hit a 3-pointer 17 seconds later for Denver.
Instead of being down by six going into the fourth quarter, the Jazz found themselves in an 11-point deficit and a deflated state.
The Nuggets opened the fourth with back-to-back buckets, and Utah never recovered from that 7-0 spurt.
"That's a big play," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "Instead of being down six, you're down 11. They got the momentum coming out (in the fourth). … I thought it was the turning point of the game."
Unfortunately for the Jazz, their own offensive disappearance and the Nuggets' emergence ultimately caused much more interference for Utah than the referees or Hayward's rim-rattling did.
The Jazz only shot 35.9 percent, with starters Hayward, Jamaal Tinsley, Randy Foye, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap combining to go an ice-cold 16-for-49.
Meanwhile, Denver's Danilo Gallinari was hitting about everything en route to a game-high 26 points for the hot-shooting home team (51.3 percent). Former Jazzman Kosta Koufos spearheaded the Nuggets' superior rebounding effort (48-41) with 13 boards, and Utah got outscored 54-24 in the paint by its Rocky Mountain rivals.
"It wasn't one of our better efforts," Corbin admitted.
Just another step back for this 17-18 team, which continues to shuffle around mediocrity with one stride forward and a step-and-a-half back.
"We played well enough in the first half to win the game, but the second half was just, I don't know what it was," said Jefferson, whose team led 23-21 after the first quarter and only trailed by four at halftime. "We ran out of gas. They just stepped up and we didn't."
Corbin called a timeout only 83 seconds into the second half after Denver opened with a 6-0 run, including a layup by Ty Lawson after he stole an inbounds pass from Millsap.
Minutes later, Utah fought back into it thanks to a 9-0 run, which included a Millsap jumper and free throw and 3-pointers from Williams and Foye.
The Jazz were behind 80-72 when Hayward thought he'd finished off a transition play that began with a Derrick Favors steal.
"I had one in college where I dunked it and it went in the basket and came back out and they called it out, so I've kind of seen it all," Hayward said. "You've just got to live with it, I guess. You've got to move on to the next play."
This time, however, the Jazz didn't do that.
That five-point swing proved to be as close as Utah got, as the Nuggets dominated the fourth quarter while going up by as many as 24 points.
Referee Bennie Adams told Corbin that Hayward "held onto the rim," prompting the offensive interference call. The ref wouldn't respond to Hayward, who said he didn't touch the ball after the initial dunk.
The officiating crew, led by Tom Washington, also denied the Deseret News' postgame request to get a clarifying explanation.
"I thought if a guy hits you going to the basket, you got a right to brace yourself," Corbin said. "(Hayward) grabbed the rim so he wouldn't flip, and they didn't see it that way."
Corbin was equally disgusted, however, by the Jazz's lack of energy and pace. He didn't want to hear the excuses about traveling or it being the second night of a back-to-back, either.
"We've got to be tougher," Corbin said. "You've got to fight your way through that. We didn't fight our way through that tonight."
By snapping Utah's two-game mini-winning spree, the Nuggets improved to 19-16 after falling to Minnesota at home on Wednesday.
"You've got to give them credit. They knocked down some shots," Hayward said. "I think we gave them way too many easy looks in the paint. We let them get a rhythm going at the free-throw line as well (28-for-39). We've just got to get better."
NOTES: Faried finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds despite being sick. … Millsap led the Jazz in scoring with 15 points on 4-for-12 shooting. He also had seven rebounds, four steals, three assists and three blocked shots with four turnovers. … Only four Utah players hit double figures. … The Jazz won't practice today and return to action Monday at home against Dirk Nowitzki-led Dallas.