When the Utah Jazz pulled off their 106-96 road victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night, it felt as if the contest marked either: (a) a statement game by the Jazz, (b) the Nuggets flashing an important weakness or (c) both. Utah has now won seven of their last eight games, with their only loss during that stretch coming in overtime against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. The fact that they picked up just their second road win of the season is simply an afterthought in the wake of a very strong streak of quality basketball. As for the Nuggets, they finished up a four-game homestand with a disappointing 2-2 record, featuring one signature win over the Miami Heat and a brutal double-digit loss to the New Orleans Hornets. The loss to the Hornets and Sunday's defeat at the hands of the Jazz marked an interesting trend for usually high-octane Nuggets. They were held under 100 points in both games, and are now just 3-3 on the year when opponents prevent them from hitting triple digits.
Utah's frontcourt of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap helped the Jazz win the points in the paint battle 54-44, and both players came up with big games. Jefferson finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Millsap dominated in the fourth quarter to close out the game. He scored 16 points on a ridiculous 8-10 shooting in the final quarter alone, adding a key steal as well to give him 22 steals on the season -- nearly as many as the next two highest Jazz players combined. For the night Millsap finished with 26 points on 12-19 shooting, 12 rebounds and 3 assists, but his fourth quarter is the reason the team broke open a close game and ultimately came away with the win. He absolutely abused Danilo Gallinari in the low post at the outset of the quarter and never blinked when George Karl turned to Al Harrington for defense either. Take a look at how the Jazz's power forward killed the Nuggets in the paint during the final period with this shot chart from ESPN:
When the starting frontcourt wasn't busy jamming it down Denver's throat, Utah leaned on second-year guard Gordon Hayward for scoring. Air Gordon played arguably his best game of the season, turning in a season-high 19 points on 7-13 shooting while adding 4 rebounds and 3 assists. The only bad news for the Jazz was that Derrick Favors left the game in the second quarter after tweaking his left ankle while fighting for a rebound with the Nuggets' Chris Andersen. The team called the injury a sprain, but the young forward will likely be evaluated further on Monday.
As for the Nuggets, they only managed 11 fast break points on the night and had to rely on a 39-20 advantage in free throw attempts to stay in the game up until Millsap's fourth-quarter explosion. Danilo Gallinari scored 18 points on just 6 shot attempts by attacking the hoop and earning 12 free throw attempts on the night -- he went a perfect 12-12 from the line. After burning the Jazz for 18 points on 8-11 shooting in the first matchup back in December, Al Harrington only scored 10 points on the same number of shots during Sunday night's contest. Nene scored well, but led the team with five turnovers and had no answer for Jefferson or Millsap in the paint on the defensive end.
Any fans of former University of Colorado star Alec Burks were at least treated to a solid night by the rookie combo guard. He aggressively attacked the rim on cuts and dribble-drives in his 13 minutes stint on the way to a 10-point night, his highest output since he dropped 15 in his first meeting against the Nuggets in Denver earlier this year.