SALT LAKE CITY — Denver controlled tonight’s game through most of three quarters until a 21-2 run that spanned roughly three minutes from the end of the third through the beginning of the fourth put Utah ahead by double-figures. The Jazz ended up outscoring Denver 20-3 to start the final frame and never looked back.
Here’s how the Nuggets fared tonight:
Jamal Murray: B+
Denver Nuggets’ coach Michael Malone named Murray his starting point guard prior to tonight’s regular-season opener and Murray did his job. He only had one first-half turnover on a play where Ricky Rubio stepped in front of him and there was nothing the 20-year-old could to. Murray gained confidence in his game and jumper into the third and fourth quarters as it started to fall and looked confident with the ball in his hands while running the show. You’d still like to see him shoot it more, but it was a productive start from the Kentucky product.
Gary Harris: A
Harris, along with Barton were Denver’s two standouts from the first half. The Nuggets’ starting shooting guard scored 11 points over the first two quarters on a perfect 4-4 shooting (three from distance) and played great defense on the other end of the floor. Always a consistent player, Harris was again solid throughout the final two quarters and made life hard on whichever Jazz wing he matched up on. He went quiet in the second half, as did the rest of Denver’s roster, but Harris was far from the reason Denver let their big second-half lead slip away.
Denver’s starting small forward was actively looking for his shot in the first half — something Malone wanted Chandler to do and finished in double-figures for the first time all year (counting preseason). Chandler had a solid game, but nothing spectacular.
Paul Millsap: B
Millsap picked up two first-quarter fouls but still had a productive first half as a secondary playmaker and defender. His three turnovers stood out but it does look like he’s getting more comfortable within the flow of Denver’s offense. A powerful, two-handed slam in the third followed a few possessions later by a lay-in off a Jokic assist powered Millsap to a productive third quarter. But Millsap carried four fouls into the fourth quarter and had to sit. That’s when Utah really took off.
Nikola Jokic: B
Jokic didn’t amass his usual counting stats during the first half but what he did show off was a more aggressive approach. The shots weren’t falling for the big man over the first two quarters but when Denver’s offense bogged down at the end of possessions, everyone seemed to look for Jokic. He shot just 3-8 in the first half but it was good to see him take some initiative. Quietly, Jokic nearly secured a triple-double and he finished with seven points, nine rebounds, and eight assists.
Will Barton: A-
Barton’s got hot from the second he subbed into tonight’s game. He then got Denver back into the game in the second quarter when the Nuggets’ bench caught fire from the field. Barton was performing most of the ball-handling duties for Denver’s second unit and excelled again in a playmaking role. He tallied 21 points at the half on an efficient 7-8 shooting. Barton cooled in the second half and got a little sloppy with the ball and wasn’t able to put a stop to the Jazz in the fourth.
Plumlee injected some life into the game during tonight’s first quarter when his rim-run on Gobert during his first possession of the game got Denver a dunk and back in rhythm. A huge offensive rebound by Plumlee early in the fourth helped quelled Utah’s second-half run for a moment, but because of Millsap’s foul trouble, Plumlee found himself on the floor to start the fourth during Utah’s game-sealing run.
Emmanuel Mudiay: C+
The good news for Mudiay was that Denver’s backup point guard didn’t commit a single turnover — a big improvement from his up-and-down preseason. Then, after he struggled on offense in the first half, Mudiay responded with quality minutes in the third quarter. His best play of the night came when he was getting pressured on the perimeter, blew by his man and dumped the ball off the Plumlee for two points.