Jazz Win Thriller Over Nuggets, Clinch Top Three Seed
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz won one of the most thrilling games in the NBA this season, downing the Denver Nuggets 127-120 to clinch the Northwest Division title for the first time in four seasons.
Bojan Bogdanovic scored a career-high 48 points to carry the Jazz red-hot offense over the divisional foes, winning the season series against the Nuggets two games to one.
Presumed MVP Nikola Jokic scored 24 points, handed out 13 assists, and grabbed nine rebounds, but was stymied in the fourth quarter to allow the Jazz to escape with the victory.
Bogdanovic Continues To Carry Jazz
Few players have ever seen as dramatic a turnaround within a season as Bogdanovic has with the Jazz.
Over the first 46 games of the year, the Croatian forward was averaging 14.5 points on 41 percent shooting from the floor including 38 percent from the three-point line.
By themselves, those are strong numbers, and almost identical to his career averages. But compared to his first season with the Jazz, they were an enormous disappointment.
Coming off season-ending wrist surgery, Bogdanovic struggled to finish in the paint, which allowed defenders to crowd him at the three-point, hurting his shooting and playmaking abilities.
However, after consecutive three point outings against the Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers at the end of March, a switch radically flipped in the forward’s game.
Over his last 21 games, Bogdanovic is averaging 21.9 points per game, shooting better than 48 percent from the floor and 42 percent from the three-point line. Not only is his scoring up, but his efficiency has also climbed exponentially just as the playoffs are set to begin.
“I have more confidence,” Bogdanovic said of his game. “I’m playing better, I’m shooting the ball better, I’m getting in the right shape, in the right moment, right now, right before the playoffs.”
The confidence comes at a good time for the Jazz who announced today they’d be without Donovan Mitchell for at least four of the team’s final six games before the end of the regular season.
Over the 11 games Mitchell has missed, Bogdanovic has seen his scoring average climb to 24.2 points per game while shooting 51 percent from the floor and 44 percent from three.
But it isn’t just Bogdanovic’s shooting that has returned.
“He’s making great reads, really scored in every way possible, he got stuff in transition, catch and shoot threes, he scored off the dribble,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of Bogdanovic’s dazzling display. “Even late when they started blitzing, he found Rudy [Gobert] a couple of times which says a lot.”
Friday night’s 48 point career-night is just the latest in a run of star-level performance from Bogdanovic, and they’ve come when the Jazz needed him most.
Jazz Stifle Nuggets Jokic In The Fourth
It’s hard to say the Jazz made life difficult for Jokic Friday night after he finished with 24 points, 13 assists, and nine rebounds on just 9-11 shooting, but the superstar center was noticeably frustrated in the fourth quarter.
After three superb quarters of play, the Jazz held Jokic to four points, three rebounds, three assists, four fouls, and three turnovers in just seven fourth-quarter minutes.
Jokic opened the game with a brilliant first quarter, scoring six points, handing out six assists, while grabbing three rebounds on an easy 2-2 from the floor.
However, the Jazz defense improved as the game went on, punctuated by a Gobert block on a running Jokic hook shot that likely sealed the game.
“We started the game not really physical, they were getting open shots, and they were very comfortable,” Gobert said of the Jazz first-half defense. “We raised our intensity, the communication got better, and I think we wore them down over the stretch.”
The quarterly scoring totals backed Gobert’s argument that the Jazz defense improved significantly throughout the game.
The Jazz gave up 41 first quarter points to the Nuggets to open the game, followed by 32 points in the second, 26 points in the third, and just 21 points in the fourth quarter including seven turnovers.
Though the two teams finished with an identical 38 rebounds, Snyder credited the Jazz work on the boards for his team’s win.
“I think maybe the biggest thing was we didn’t get outrebounded,” Snyder said. “Against a team that is as good as Denver is on the glass, I thought that was a big key for us and the second half.”
The Jazz were outrebounded 18-15 in the first half but won the rebounding battle in the second half 23-20 to pull away in the game.
Jazz Clinch Division, Top Three Seed In West
With the win, the Jazz improved to 49-18 with just five games remaining in the season.
With a five-game lead over the Nuggets, and now owning the tie-breaker by way of winning the season series 2-1, the Jazz have clinched both the Northwest Division title and made it impossible for the Nuggets to catch them in the standings.
The Phoenix Suns defeated the New York Knicks Friday night, keeping the Jazz lead atop the West to just one game, while the Jazz lead the Los Angeles Clippers by four games.
The Jazz can clinch a top-two seed with either their next win or the Clippers’ loss, which would make it impossible for Los Angeles to catch the Jazz after winning the tiebreaker in the series two games to one.
That could happen as soon as Saturday when the Jazz host the lowly Houston Rockets. How the team approaches the rest of the season beyond that point could be telling.
The Portland Trail Blazers edged the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday night, climbing into the sixth seed, and pushing the Lakers into the seventh seed with a potential spot in the postseason play-in tournament.
If the Jazz were to slip to the second seed, and the Lakers were to earn the seventh seed, they would earn a date with LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the first round of the playoffs.
The Lakers will have to win two more games than the Trail Blazers over the final five games of the season to move back into the sixth seed in the West.