Someone finally beat the Utah Jazz, and it took a herculean effort by one of the NBA’s best big men to get it done. Nikola Jokic matched his career high with 47 points and the Denver Nuggets rode a torrid first half to emphatically end Utah’s 11-game winning streak with a 128-113 victory Sunday in Denver.
Jokic and the Nuggets roared out of the gates, with the Joker scoring 22 points in the first quarter and 33 before intermission. Jokic’s 33 first-half points were his most ever in a half and the most in the first half of an NBA game this season. It also was the highest-scoring first half by a Nuggets player since Allen Iverson scored 33 on Dec. 5, 2007, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Entering Sunday, only two players had scored at least 33 points against the Jazz for an entire game this season: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jokic himself on Jan. 17, both scoring 35.
In addition to his 47 points (on 17-of-26 shooting), Jokic had 12 rebounds for his 20th straight double-double to start the season, the second-longest such stretch since the NBA/ABA merger, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Antetokounmpo did it in 19 straight games to start last season. Jokic has a way to go to reach the best mark, however, as Bill Walton had a double-double in 34 straight games to start the 1976-77 season.
“I’m just happy that we won the game,” Jokic said in a postgame interview on the Nuggets’ Altitude TV broadcast. “They’re playing amazing, they have 11 wins a row, they’re shooting the ball real well. It is a really nice win for us.”
Asked if he has been looking to shoot more, Jokic said, “It depends. It depends on what kind of game it is, how I feel. It’s not that I’m coming into the game and thinking, I’m going to do this. I’m just trying to see what the game brings me.”
Nikola Jokic comes out firing, scoring 22 points in the first quarter vs. the Jazz.
Denver was 15-of-17 on 3-point shots in the first half and held a 79-54 lead at the break. Will Barton hit all five of his attempts, Jokic was perfect on four tries and Paul Millsap was 2-for-2. The Nuggets’ 88.2% mark was the best 3-point percentage by any team in a half with a minimum of 15 tries in at least the past 20 seasons, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. Denver finished the game 18-of-28 from beyond the arc.
Coincidentally, 3-pointers had been one of the keys to Utah’s success during its winning streak. The Jazz tied the NBA record with their 10th straight game with at least 15 long balls Sunday.
The Jazz, who came in with the best record in the NBA at 15-4, had extended their league-high winning streak to 11 despite not having Donovan Mitchell the past two games as he was in the concussion protocol. Mitchell was back Sunday, but it didn’t matter.
During their 11-game winning streak, the Jazz had outscored their opponents by an average of 117-101, and they also trailed for only 57 seconds in the fourth quarter during the run. But on Sunday, Utah took its only lead at 9:23 of the first quarter. Millsap hit a 3 for Denver 18 seconds later, and the Jazz trailed the rest of the way. Utah pulled within single digits in the third quarter, but Denver pulled away in the fourth.
“I didn’t think we had the edge that we’ve had defensively,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said in his postgame videoconference. “Hats off to Denver for making those plays, of course. We hung in there and cut the lead to single digits, but you give yourself a really, really difficult hill to climb and a small margin for error. You have to almost be perfect at that point.”