DENVER — Just hours before the Utah Jazz tipped off against the Denver Nuggets on the tail end of a back-to-back, the injury report surfaced with seemingly bad news for fans in Salt Lake City.
Both Ricky Rubio and Raul Neto were out with left hamstring tightness — along with already-hurt Dante Exum (left ankle sprain) — as the Jazz were faced with the tall task of trying to beat the No. 1 team in the Western Conference on their home floor.
“We were in this situation a month or so ago after Dante got hurt, then Ricky and then Raul, so I think it’s not unfamiliar to us,” Snyder said beforehand. “It doesn’t make it easier. I think the ball handling responsibilities are basically the guys are quote-unquote our two and our three, but they both handle the ball well, they’re going to handle it differently and I think everybody’s gotta be even more connected.”
And that’s exactly what the Jazz did as Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles presumed bigger ball-handling duties to help the short-handed Jazz snap Denver’s six-game win streak 111-104 on Thursday night. The loss was just Denver’s fifth at home all season.
Entering the Jazz-Nuggets contest, the game drew so much interest that TNT dropped the Minnesota at Indiana matchup to nationally televise these Northwest Division rivals live from the Pepsi Center with an 8:30 p.m. tipoff — after it was originally slated for 7 p.m.
The teams didn’t disappoint, either, in an entertaining matchup that the Jazz escaped with after leading by as many as 18 on the night.
Mitchell led the Jazz with nine of his game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter to go along with eight rebounds and five assists as Kyle Korver also tied a season high with 22 points and six 3-pointers off the bench as the Jazz won their third game in a row.
“We have so much respect for them as a program and what they’re doing, so to have a chance to compete in that situation is a good thing,” Snyder said.
The Jazz struggled with their shots in the opening quarter, connecting on just 30.4 percent from the field, but only trailed 22-19 going into the second. However, by halftime, Utah built a 53-37 edge after outscoring the Nuggets 33-15 in the second quarter. Denver’s 37 points were their fewest points in a first half this season.
Joe Ingles posted 12 of his 15 points with five of his 10 assists at halftime.
Utah continued to buckle down on defense and make smart passes to open the second half, pushing the lead to 18 in the third, but Denver refused to back down.
Nikola Jokić picked up his fifth personal foul offensively against Rudy Gobert at 4:50 in the third, but the Nuggets still went on a 19-8 run to get within 77-70 before Mitchell drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer against Will Barton to give the Jazz a 81-70 lead going into the fourth.
Denver would get within 104-101 in the fourth, but the Jazz weathered the storm behind Mitchell’s late-game heroics.
Barton led the Nuggets with 21 points and a season-high 13 boards while Jamal Murray added 21 points and four boards. Jokić contributed 13 rebounds with 16 points and seven assists.
Gobert finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and four blocks and Derrick Favors ended with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
The last time these two teams met, things got chippy with Utah holding on to beat the Nuggets 114-108 on Jan. 23 at home. Both Favors and Mason Plumlee were ejected and fined for engaging in an altercation and Jokić was suspended one game without pay for violating the league’s rule against leaving the bench during the first quarter altercation, but this game wasn’t as physical.15 comments on this story
“The last time we lost to them in Utah, they made 19 3s, 13 in the first half, so can we find a way to contain the ball?” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said during his pregame availability. “Rudy (Gobert) does a great job of rolling, you have to account for his roll, then you have to fly around and get after their shooters, so (it’s a) multiple effort in a big way.”
These teams will conclude their regular season series at Utah on April 9, but the Jazz are scheduled to face Milwaukee at 7 p.m. Saturday at Vivint Arena.