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Swollen cheek doesn't stop Eric Paschall from playing pivotal role in Jazz win over Nuggets

Denver Nuggets forward JaMychal Green (0) and Utah Jazz forward Eric Paschall (0) compete for a rebound during the game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021.

Denver Nuggets forward JaMychal Green (0) and Utah Jazz forward Eric Paschall (0) compete for a rebound during the game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Eric Paschall awoke with his eye swollen.

He had a pimple, or at least a bump of some kind. Whatever it was, it was infected and half of his face was swollen — not the greatest way to wake up.

"He's had a lot of (stuff) happen to him," Rudy Gobert said following Utah's 122-110 win over Denver on Tuesday. "He had a swollen cheek bone, he had a dislocated finger the day before the first game, but he showed up — showed up to every practice, every game."

In the closing minute of the third quarter, Denver's Will Barton walked down Paschall. Barton had a superb third quarter, scoring 16 points as the Nuggets tried to steal a game in Utah without both of their stars on the court.

Paschall, though, locked him up.

Barton went left, Paschall was there to check him. Barton backed out and accelerated right, Paschall beat him to the spot. After a behind the back crossover failed to gain separation, Barton simply tried to get rid of the ball — and threw it right out of bounds.

"Being able to be a star at what he does, that's him," Donovan Mitchell said. "That's who he has been his whole life, especially when he's on the island one on one. I think he cherishes that; he loves that. For him, that's his moment. He goes out there and he locks up; that's just him."

That play helped set a tone for a dominant fourth quarter where the Jazz pulled away from the shorthanded Nuggets.

While the defensive lockdown of Barton was the obvious highlight of Paschall's night — he finished with 0 points, four rebounds and two assists, but was plus-16 — what stood out to Jazz coach Quin Snyder was even more simple: Paschall made the easy passes.

There was a short swing pass for an open 3-pointer from Joe Ingles and a typical drive and kick to free up Mike Conley for a shot behind the arc. It's not complicated basketball but is what made the passes so crucial.

"He moved the ball as much as anything," Snyder said. "Something as simple as not letting the ball stick, driving in the lane and kicking it out to shooters. And those are simple plays but those are the plays that if we make, we're hard to guard."

And though the Jazz are often hard to guard when they're hitting their shots, the team has yet to have an impressive shooting display this season. Outside of Ingles and Conley, the team has struggled from deep. Bojan Bogdanovic is shooting 31% from behind the arc, Mitchell is at 30%, Royce O'Neale is hitting 27%, and Jordan Clarkson is at 26%, but those guys are still feared shooters.

If the Jazz move the ball, the open shots will come. Paschall may not be a dead-eye shooter himself, but he knows where to go with the ball to find someone who is.

"When I drive, a lot of teams are going to try to collapse thinking I can't pass, so I try to just make teams pay for that and just pass the ball where you need to," he said.

Along with Paschall's defensive tenacity, it has given him a spot in the rotation. Will that still be there when Rudy Gay is healthy (the Jazz have yet to give a timetable on his return)? Maybe not, but more players will miss time throughout the season. But having a guy like Paschall on the bench ready to embrace any role is a nice luxury to have.

"I love how he brings the intensity every single second. It's contagious," Gobert said.

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