Nuggets vs. Jazz Game One Takeaways

Utah could be in serious trouble

On Monday, the Denver Nuggets defeated the Utah Jazz 135–125 in game one of their playoff series. The matchup was a hard-fought, overtime thriller. Now some may view the overtime loss as a good thing for Utah. They had chances to win down the stretch, so the series should be a close one right? Not exactly.

Yes the Jazz were able to force OT against the higher seeded Nuggets. But some context needs to be added. Utah’s Donovan Mitchell had the game of his life. The former Louisville guard had 57 points on 19–33 shooting. Mitchell also added in six threes, nine rebounds, and seven assists. This was by far Mitchell’s best game as a pro, yet the Jazz still lost. The likelihood Mitchell comes out in game two and has even 40 points, let alone 57, is unlikely. This season, he is averaging 24 points. A good number by all means, but not nearly to the standard of 57. Mitchell also averages 2.5 threes made per game. Again a solid number, but not the six he made in game one. That is where the problem enters for Utah.

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Donovan Mitchell’s 57 points weren’t enough to defeat Denver. Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Donovan Mitchell more likely than not is going to regress to his season averages. Even if he stays above them and averages 35 points and four threes made per game, that won’t be enough against Denver. If 57 points is unable to get a win, what is?

It’s also not fair to assume the reason Utah lost is because the rest of the team underperformed. Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, and Jordan Clarkson all scored more than their season averages for points. The Jazz as a team even shot slightly better than their season average (47.4% as opposed to 47.1%). Utah was also able to out-rebound Denver 52 to 41. The Jazz managed to secured 16 offensive boards as well.

Yet somehow, you add all of this up and Utah still lost.

The biggest problem for the Jazz, and we knew this going into the bubble, was the absence of Bojan Bogdanovic. The Utah forward did not join the team in Orlando after opting to have wrist surgery. The loss of Bogdanovic is already proving to be costly. He was Utah’s second leading scorer (20.2 points per game) on the season. He was also the team’s top three-point shooter, averaging three threes made per game on 41.4% shooting. Bogdanovic isn’t making a return this season however, which could spell trouble for the Jazz.

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Jamal Murray was the catalyst in Denver’s win, scoring 36 points. Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

But what about Denver? Their guys outperformed their season averages. Won’t they regress as well?

Well more than likely yes they will. Jamal Murray, who averages 18.5 points per game this year probably won’t average 36 for the series. Nikola Jokic, who averages 19.9 points per game may not average 29 against Utah. The thing is 36 points per game for Murray, and 29 points per game for Jokic are much more achievable numbers than 57 in Donovan Mitchell’s case. Jokic is a superstar, so the thought of him bumping up his scoring average by nine points isn’t unheard of. Murray on the other hand is a solid player. While he likely won’t achieve 36 points per game, 25 per doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Denver’s newest star Michael Porter Jr. also didn’t perform up to his new expectations in game one. The Denver “rookie” who averaged 22 points (along with 2.7 threes made on 42% shooting) and 8.6 rebounds in the seeding games, was named to the NBA’s All-Bubble Second team. Porter Jr. struggled however in his first playoff game, finishing with 13 points on 5–13 shooting. The young forward is likely to perform better throughout the rest of the series.

And here’s the big thing, Denver won the game, by 10 nonetheless.

So yes players on both teams outperformed their season averages. However, in Denver’s case, their players’ numbers are far more likely to be re-obtained than Utah’s. Also, a big piece of Denver’s roster didn’t perform up to expectations. Michael Porter Jr. is likely going to return to his All-Bubble form. Sitting at 1–0 in Denver’s favor, the Jazz could be in serious trouble.

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University at Buffalo ’20 | BA in Communication | Writer for The Sports Scientist

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