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'That's the team that we can be': Gobert's return leads to Jazz blowout over Nuggets

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, left, dunks as Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, in Denver.

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, left, dunks as Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, in Denver. (David Zalubowski, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Two minutes into the fourth quarter, Rudy Gobert subbed out for his traditional quick breather.

This one, however, was a little quicker than normal. Gobert ended up resting for a grand total of 40 seconds before he was called on again.

It was a simple decision for Jazz coach Quin Snyder: Nikola Jokic was checking back in and that meant Gobert had to follow.

Up to that point, the game had followed a script: The Jazz won the minutes Gobert played; the Nuggets won the ones with Jokic. So the Jazz simply couldn't afford to let Gobert sit while Jokic was on the court.

The decision to immediately put him back in, worked out perfectly.

The Jazz outscored the Nuggets by 20 in the fourth quarter to roll to a 125-102 victory over the Nuggets Sunday in Denver.

It was a game that felt like a reset in a lot of ways for Utah. The Jazz have been in a downswing as a COVID-19 outbreak spread through the team, losing four in a row as they've struggled without some key players.

On Sunday, the Jazz were nearly whole again — unsurprisingly, they looked a lot better, too.

Gobert had 18 points and 19 rebounds in his return, and the Jazz outscored the Nuggets by 36 points during his 35 minutes.

A bulk of that came from a 21-4 run that spanned the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth. The run helped turn a 3-point deficit into a rout.

"Guys were locked in and I think there was a level of focus and pride on the defensive end," Snyder said. "I hope our guys feel good about that. I think they do, and they should."

Like most Nuggets-Jazz games in recent memory, the game within the game revolved around Gobert and Jokic.

The 48 minutes in Denver was a snapshot on both players' ridiculous impacts.

With Jokic on the court and Gobert off, the Nuggets were +16. With Gobert and Jokic on the court, the Jazz were +36.

Jokic had a monster night and finished with 25 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists, but he didn't win the minutes against Gobert. The Jazz outscored the Nuggets by 11 points when both shared the court. That was a key to a Jazz victory on Sunday.

When Jokic subbed out late in the third quarter, Utah was holding onto a 3-point lead. When he returned, it had ballooned to 14 points. Not allowing Jokic to have another minute on the court without Gobert allowed the Jazz to keep — and extend — that lead.

Donovan Mitchell had 31 points, five rebounds and four assists, and Bojan Bogdanovic added 21 points and five assists in the win. The Jazz shot 52% as a team, but the offense was never the focus on Sunday — during or after the game. The Jazz had lost four straight because they couldn't stop anyone.

The game was the first following a minor back-and-forth within the media between Gobert, Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson over that lack of defensive focus. If Sunday's game is any indicator, there are no lasting hurt feelings. And it may have helped Utah, too.

"We hadn't played well as a group," Mitchell said. "We finally figured it out a little bit tonight."

Utah held Denver to 44% shooting and just 14 fourth-quarter points. A lot of that was Gobert, obviously, but the All-NBA center specifically praised Mitchell and Clarkson for their defensive efforts.

"There were a few plays when Donovan went up vertical and made an amazing play on the ball," Gobert said. "Donovan and Jordan got a few big rebounds, and then we're about to run and score and transition. So just a great team effort. The communication was great, and I think that's the team that we can be."

Winning fixes a lot of issues. On Sunday, the Jazz got back in the win column.

"It was a good step forward," Mitchell said. "We just got to keep doing it. We can't just say, 'all right, we did it tonight and we're back.' We've got to continue to do it night after night."

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Utah JazzSports
Ryan Miller has covered the Utah Jazz for KSL.com since 2018.

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