SALT LAKE CITY — The oft-criticized nightlife in Utah was certainly entertaining for basketball fans on Wednesday.
With 2:46 remaining in the opening quarter, things got heated quickly in Vivint Arena when the Utah Jazz hosted their Northwest Division rival Denver Nuggets live on ESPN.
Utah would pull out the 114-108 win against the No. 2 team in the Western Conference, but not without a fight — literally.
First, Derrick Favors and Mason Plumlee were involved in the slight altercation during the first after getting tangled up under the rim. Favors shoved Plumlee after the two exchanged words, which led to pushing and shoving by both teams on the baseline.
Both Plumlee and Favors were ejected after receiving double technical fouls. Royce O’Neale and Will Barton were also hit with single technicals but were allowed to continue.
Then, around the 2:21 mark of the second quarter, things got chippy again when Nikola Jokic jumped in the face of Jae Crowder following a light nudge from him after being whistled for a travel call.
Even as Jokic yelled in frustration, Crowder kept his cool and laughed it off as Utah ended the first half with 65-58 lead.
"It's very difficult, no doubt," Crowder said of not reacting. "If we was in the park it would've went down. It would've went down for sure but like I said, you've got to think about your teammates, you've got to think about the situation that's at hand and we're trying to win the game here and I didn't want to make it a me against him but it would've went down back if it was at a park."
Utah set a franchise record for the most threes made in any half, with 13 in the first half, previously topping the 12 made in the first half against Charlotte on March 16, 2015.
The Jazz (27-22) have now won eight consecutive home games versus Denver. Utah is also 7-1 over its last eight games, with the next one scheduled at home versus Minnesota on Friday at 7 p.m.
“Obviously, tough place to play,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said of Vivint Arena beforehand. “We talked about that as a team this morning, having lost seven in a row here.”
Donovan Mitchell buried four threes in the second quarter, including three in a row, to lead the Jazz on the night with 35 points, six assists and six rebounds on six threes. The second year Jazz guard has now posted at least 24 points in 10 consecutive games and has reached at least 30 points in five of those. He became the first Jazzman with consecutive 35-point-plus games since Karl Malone in 1998.
In his second game back since missing six straight with a mild right hamstring strain, Ricky Rubio also returned to the starting lineup to end with 17 points, six assists and three boards.
Rubio jumped to a fast start with eight points and three assists in the first five minutes on 3-for-3 shooting.
Utah continued to play shorthanded without Dante Exum (left ankle sprain), Raul Neto (left groin strain) and Thabo Sefolosha (mild right hamstring strain), who are all out for at least another week.
As anticipated, Jokic was a handful to deal with in the paint, especially with his rare passing and rebounding ability as a big man. Jokic led the Nuggets with 28 points, 21 rebounds and six assists while being matched up against Utah’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who posted 15 points, 11 rebounds and three swats.
“You have to be disciplined. He puts so much pressure on you,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of Jokic. “He can put it on the floor, he’s hard to double-team because he’s so big and he’s poised. He can have two guys on him and still find somebody.”
Barton was big off the bench for Denver with 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists, helping the Nuggets erase a 15-point hole in the third. The Nuggets would get within four, 111-107, in the fourth but the Jazz sealed the win with strong defense down the stretch.3 comments on this story
Utah’s Joe Ingles also poured in six of his 14 points in the first quarter with eight assists and five boards while Jae Crowder added 15 points and six rebounds.
As entertaining as this game turned out to be, these division rivals will meet again twice this season with the next contest scheduled for Feb. 28 at Denver. Plumlee and Favors will likely be back for that one, though.
“Anytime you play a team that’s different, it goes against some of your instincts,” Snyder said of Denver. “On top of that, they are different on a high level. It’s not that they’re different, they are very, very good.”