Four-Point Play: Utah Jazz Nudge Out Nuggets

Apr 3, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) is congratulated by teammates in the first half of the game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) is congratulated by teammates in the first half of the game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /

The Utah Jazz kept their playoff hopes alive with a road win over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

After a bad loss to the Los Angeles Clippers’ B-team on Friday and with the Houston Rockets having just knocked off Kobe Bryant and Co. to keep the playoff race alive, the Utah Jazz faced a must-win situation against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

Despite a slow start, the Jazz rediscovered their defensive identity to defeat the Nuggets, 100-84.

The victory was a critical one for the Jazz, who are trying to stave off the Rockets for one of the final playoff spots in the west. With the win, the Jazz stayed a game above the Rockets, with two more games to go in the regular season

Utah was led by Gordon Hayward with 22 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals. Rudy Gobert had arguably his best game of the season with 16 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks.

Meanwhile, Jazz rookie Trey Lyles had a career-high 22 points while starting in the absence of an injured Derrick Favors.

Nikola Jokic paced Denver with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Emmanuel Mudiay scored 19 points, while showing a solid mid-range game. The Nuggets were without Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari for the game.

73. 100. 118. Final. 84

1) Return of Gobzilla

Two minutes into the third quarter, Jazz coach Quin Synder pulled Gobert to give him some advice. Snyder put Gobert back in at the 7:32 mark in the third quarter. The Nuggets scored only four points for the rest of the period.

After playing poorly against the Clippers, riding the bench during the fourth quarter and OT, the bout with the Nuggets was an important one for Gobert and the Jazz center delivered. In the third quarter alone, the Stifle Tower had six points and four blocks. He dominated the paint, leaving the Nuggets with little room to breathe down low.

Needless to say, this was the Gobert that everyone was expecting this season.

2) The Third Quarter Beatdown

At the halfway mark of the third quarter, the Jazz were primed to lose this game. Just like the Clippers’ game on Friday, the Jazz failed to assert themselves against an undermanned Nuggets team. The Jazz trailed the Nuggets 62-58 with 6:56 left in the period, but the Nuggets never scored again in the quarter.

Thanks to an incredible 24-0 run to close out the quarter, the Jazz captured their 40th win of the season. It was their defense and the ability of both Gobert and Hayward to carry the team in Favors’ absence that allowed it to happen.

Like Gobert, Hayward was spectacular in the third quarter, scoring 10 points, grabbing five rebounds and netting two steals and a block in the period.

3) Nuggets vs Jazz This Season

No team has dominated Denver on the defensive end as much as the Jazz this season. They just match up better than most teams against the Nuggets. In the four meetings against the Jazz this season, Denver failed to surpass 88 points, which is more than 14 points below their season average of 102.2 points per game.

The Jazz, Nuggets and Timberwolves will be forces to be reckoned with in the Western Conference in the next few seasons. As it stands now, Utah owns a match-up advantage that could prove critical in the years to come.

4) Playoff Watch

The Jazz can still grab the sixth spot in the Western Conference. On the other hand, they could still miss out on a playoff spot entirely.

If the Jazz win out, and the Memphis Grizzlies lose their final two games, Utah clinches the sixth spot. If the Jazz lose one game and the Rockets win out, Utah loses the tie-breaker and their playoff spot to Houston. If the Jazz and Rockets lose one gameUtah each, Utah clinches a playoff spot.

UtahThe best option, obviously, is to win out and not worry about what happens with other games. Getting in is the thing; whether its the sixth, seventh or eighth seed doesn’t matter for the Jazz. After all, they are 0-12 combined against OKC, SAS and GSW.

Still, it’s prudent to note that Utah has pushed GSW to the brink of defeat in their two games in Salt Lake City.

Next: Trey Lyles is making his mark

The Jazz will host the Dallas Mavericks in Utah on Monday in a pivotal game for both teams.