Third Quarter Dooms Utah in Denver, 91 – 99

January 5th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

Utah never slowed down Jamal Murray, whose six three pointers catalyzed Utah’s 91 to 99 loss to a division rival. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Story of the Game

If one thing has become clear this season, it’s that this Jazz team simply isn’t good enough to win games against quality teams when they play less than a full 48 minutes of solid basketball. Utah’s 99 to 91 loss in Denver became yet one more example of this in a painful and frustrating season.

The first half was Jazz basketball: on pace for 97 possessions in the game, right around their season average; they’d moved the ball to the tune of 14 assists, a strong number for a half; only hot shooting by Jamal Murray and Trey Lyles, who combined for five threes on eight attempts, kept Denver within three. Utah had depressed the crowd and even weathered a 14 to three Nuggets’s burst to start the quarter to retain the lead of halftime.

Then in the third Utah’s energy dropped, Denver ran up the pace, costing the Jazz confidence and they never stopped the bleeding. The pace jumped to over 101 possessions in the quarter, even faster with the starters on the court, and Utah got blown out of the gym, a disturbingly frequent sight recently. Denver shot 62 percent from the field and 71 from three (five of seven), trouncing the Jazz 38 to 16.

When Utah gave up 42 in the third quarter to the Warriors last week, there was perhaps some excuse. Those are the Warriors, after all. Allowing a 38-point quarter to the Nuggets, despite their being a qualify offensive team, is simply unacceptable. More so when Utah can only manage 16 points in a 12-minute span with the game played at such a pace. The 22 point differential in the quarter was the largest point advantage Denver had managed in a single quarter since March of 2016.

Even a flurry of late Jazz points couldn’t do more than narrow the gap to nine, a margin much smaller than would accurately communicate the difference in the teams’ performances this game.

And so the Jazz opened 2018 facing two conference rivals, teams fighting for the last few playoff spots that Utah aspired to this season, and lost both.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: None

A true superstar would have taken control of Utah’s offense in the awful third quarter. Not only did no Jazz player succeed at this, none tried.

Secondary Stars: Donovan Mitchell, Derrick Favors, and Joe Ingles

Each posted a solid but not spectacular statistical evening. Mitchell had a team-high 15 points1, including going three of six from three, with seven rebounds, five assists, a steal, and a block. Favors contributed 14 points on 10 shots, 10 rebounds, an assist, and three blocks (all in the first half). Ingles notched a symmetrical nine point, nine assist night, adding seven boards and two steals. All three players ended the night with positive plus-minuses that are largely cosmetic due to a late Jazz push that never threatened to steal the Nuggets’s victory.

Secret Star: None

Rodney Hood had a respectable night with 12 points, four rebounds, three assists, and a steal, but his featured spot in the offense made his impact less than the numbers suggest where a Secret Star typically provides greater impact than the numbers suggest.

Stats of the Game

46 – Points in the paint for Denver, six more than the Jazz. That’s a pretty awful number of Utah defensively considering Nikola Jokic scored only two of those 46.

134.9 – Ricky Rubio’s defensive rating on the evening, stunning for a quality defender who plays so hard on that side of the ball.

10 – More free throws by Denver than Utah in what proved to be a very physical game. Their plus-six points from the stripe added to their two additional made threes where Utah made twos are the margin of the game.

18.6 percent – Mitchell’s usage rate, his fourth lowest of the season.

8 percent – Alec Burks’s three point shooting in his last six games after going zero of three again tonight.


  • Jamaal Murray has been something of a Jazz killer early in his career and continued that tonight. He hardly missed, scoring 26 on only 13 shots, including making an incredible six of seven from long range. When the young man’s shot is dropping, he’s a real weapon.
  • With Murray killing the Jazz, Trey Lyles buried them, likely enjoying every ounce of dirt he piled on. Lyles, perhaps tired of hearing how stupid it was for the Nuggets to ship away the draft pick that would become Donovan Mitchell for Lyles, scored a career high 26, shooting nine of 17 from the field and four of eight from three. He played hard and decisively, the last a characteristic severely lacking in his last season with Utah, combining accurate long range shooting with drives to the basket and post ups against smaller players2. All the skills that once so excited the Jazz were on display – but I doubt Utah has any buyers remorse.
  • After last game I wrote how Hood shoots the Jazz to losses too frequently by combining poor efficiency (30 percent or lower shooting) with high volume (10 or more field goal attempts). His inability to get to the rim is largely responsible, and he obviously tried to address that deficiency in his game tonight, with encouraging results. Four of Hood’s shots came within the restricted area (he made three), a total it often takes him three or four games to reach. He counterbalanced that with five three point shots (making two). It’s that type of distribution he’ll need to maintain to gain any semblance of consistency as an NBA scorer.
  • The Nuggets are excellent cutters, especially when Jokic has the ball on the perimeter. Utah’s bad habit of overhelping really hurt them today as they gave up numerous scores either at the basket or open threes when a cutter kicked the ball back out. With a defender as good as Favors or Ekpe Udoh on Jokic, no Jazz perimeter defender should ever lose hand or eye contact with their man when Jokic – or Mason Plumlee – has the ball.
  • Joe Johnson had been playing better recently, and may have had his best game of the season the other night against the Pelicans. Tonight was rough for him however. He scored only five points on nine shots and was a minus-17 for the night. Moreover, he seemed bothered by Lyle’s length in the post, which is surprising as Lyles is anything but an impact defender.
  • It feels like talking about Rubio is to pick on him, but it’s impossible to avoid. Tonight he shot the ball great – six of nine overall and three of six from three for a total of 15 points – and only played 23 minutes, yet in those minutes the team was still outscored by 25! Since the start of December, the team has been outscored by 115 when Rubio plays. When he’s shooting well and the team still can’t compete, how is Quin Snyder supposed to use him?

Utah, only three and 15 on the road, will now go East for a three game road trip. If they were to lose all three, which unfortunately is a real possibility, they would be 10 games below .500. With a shot at the playoffs sliding further and further away, even with the prospect of Rudy Gobert’s return perhaps as soon as next week, Utah has to scratch and claw a win or two in the near future. They’ll try to get their first in 2018 Sunday in Miami.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.
Clint Johnson

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  1. John Jenkins says:

    Nice take. If they are showcasing Burks the effect is negated with his poor offense and awful defense. He is a serious rebounder however. The terrible defense and poor passing (turnovers) plus 3 combined players shooting 7 for 32!were not to be overcome. Putting Donovan in the corner is just plain stupid.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I get the feeling Mitchell is being told when he’s supposed to get his own shot and when he isn’t. He’s clearly working on his ability to distribute the ball. He is a good shooter off the catch, and in theory using him that way at times may help him save energy. The problem is there hasn’t been another ball handler who can consistently orchestrate the offense at an effective enough level, other than maybe Ingles in certain matchups.

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