It’s amazing what just a few made shots can do, both on the scoreboard and for a team’s confidence. For the second consecutive road game, the Jazz used the confidence boost from a few early buckets to open the second half to flip the script on another ugly first half and pull away from the Nuggets. Along with Saturday’s second half in Indiana, it was easily the most comfortable and energetic the Jazz have looked this season, and some of that extra bounce seemed to come from seeing the ball rip through the nylon.
Of course, here’s a bet that Quin Snyder and his team will credit the performance first and foremost to their play on the defensive end. The Jazz held Denver to 60 points over the final three quarters, beginning to outwork the Nuggets in the third quarter despite being the team that played the night before and traveled to the Pepsi center. The effort level was apparent on the boards, where the Jazz collected over 54 percent of all available rebounds and over a quarter of their missed shots in the second half.
The root of the confidence boost just seemed to be on the other end, maybe because those sorts of performances are rarer for this team. The Jazz shot an even 50 percent from deep in the second, and perhaps more importantly ended up with 23 attempts from deep, a high number of the open, no-dribble variety. They seemed to take another small step out of their offensive shell, with a few more well-devised counters to base sets sprinkled in — check out this perfectly executed hammer set for a Hayward triple, beautiful despite his miss:
The Jazz assisted on two thirds of their made baskets Thursday, another season high and a welcome sight following a franchise-low in dimes the night before against Portland. It remains to be seen whether they can finally put this sort of game together for a full 48 minutes, particularly against the sort of elite competition they’ve yet to face, but the win was a step in the right direction. Snyder praised their ability to quickly rebound from what looked like a hangover from Wednesday’s performance early on, and rightly so.
45.8 — Jazz percentage from deep, easily their highest figure of the season. Utah generated the best spacing we’ve seen through five games, particularly from the second quarter on, and spot-up shooters were confident and in rhythm.
16.5 percent — Difference between Jazz percentage (48.6) and Nuggets percentage (32.1) on uncontested field goals. The Jazz generated nine more of these, making this a wide gap. It’s a make or miss league, as they say, and the Jazz were finally on the “make” end more often than their opponent.
2.09 — Jazz assist-to-turnover ratio Thursday night, another encouraging sign that the offense is sputtering to life.
Alec Burks, offensive catalyst: Burks was fantastic with the ball in his hands against the Nuggets. He was getting wherever he wanted in pick-and-roll play, mixing up his approach between accepting the screen and rejecting it. The biggest theme for Burks on this night, though, was his passing — Alec displayed the sort of vision many a Jazz fan has pined for, finishing with eight assists (also a secondary assist and a free throw assist, per SportVU figures) and several other missed shots which would have been assists. His recognition of the way his forays into the paint drew help from the perimeter was excellent, and his passes were timed perfectly. He started the second half in place of Rodney Hood in a decision that was hard to argue from Snyder. If Burks can keep sprinkling in this sort of distribution on top of his already-potent driving game, he’ll be among the team’s most valuable offensive assets.
Foul play: They dug out of it well enough Thursday, but the Jazz continue to hurt themselves with early fouls and a large free throw discrepancy. Hood and Gordon Hayward both picked up two in the first quarter, and the Jazz let Denver into the penalty with over four minutes remaining in each of the game’s first three quarters. Like other games this season, a few here or there were debatable, just like a few on the other end that didn’t get called. But the Jazz allowed double the number of free throw attempts as they collected, not the first time this season they’ve given up a big edge at the stripe.
Hayward finding a groove: It’s a slow process, but Gordon Hayward is getting his rhythm back. He put up his first 20-point game of the season in Denver, cracking 50 percent from the field and making all four of his free throw attempts. He still isn’t getting all of the same sort of calls he became accustomed to last year, particularly near the basket, but he’s playing through it and finding his flow.
Booker provides a spark in Favors’ absence: Derrick Favors couldn’t return for the second half, as flu-like symptoms finally caught up with him after a valiant effort to play three halves in two nights. Trevor Booker was ready to step up in his stead Thursday night, however. Struggling on the year, Booker brought the sort of energy Jazz fans knew him for last year — he crashed the glass (four offensive rebounds in 28 minutes), kept the tempo up (team-high 94.70) and was active offensively. He even nailed a three without hesitation, maybe the first time all year he’s leaned confidently into a triple. The Jazz could use nights like these consistently; when Favors is healthy, this level from Booker places him firmly in the ranks of above-average third bigs.