SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – The 2017-18 season is off to a flying start for the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz clamped down on defense, holding the Denver Nuggets to just 38 points after the break, and pulled away for a 106-96 season-opening victory.
Six players scored in double figures, led by Rudy Gobert, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds. Alec Burks scored 16 points off the bench, while Derrick Favors added 14 and Joe Johnson poured in 13.
The Jazz trailed most of the night before Burks took over with a spectacular fourth quarter. The athletic seventh-year wing has missed most of the last three seasons due to a litany of injuries, but showed no lingering effects.
“It’s great,” said Burks, who made 7 of his 10 shots. “I’ve been through a lot. I had a bad year last year because I wasn’t healthy. Just to be out there healthy after all the things I’ve done and being injured, it’s great.”
After getting torched in the first half for 58 points, including 9 three-pointers by the Nuggets, the Jazz defense stepped it up after halftime, holding Denver to just 13 points in the fourth quarter as they erased a 15-point lead.
“We came out in the second half more physical,” Gobert said. “It didn’t translate in the third quarter, but it really did in the fourth. Once we get the stops and we get those rebounds, we just push the ball and it gives us a big boost offensively.”
“Joe Johnson, to me, what he did offensively, we just rode him,” said head coach Quin Snyder. “And then we rode [Burks]. I thought collectively, we really came together in the second half.”
“Honestly, I thought our defense really fueled our offense,” said Johnson, playing in his 17th season opener. “We were able to get stops, get out and get some easy baskets. From that point on from the end of the third into the fourth, we pretty much had them on their heels.”
Rookie Donovan Mitchell made a surprise start when Rodney Hood was dealing with gastric distress, and scored 10 points in his NBA debut.
“I got the start, but it was crazy how it all happened,” Mitchell said. “It was literally seconds before tip-off, and that’s when the nerves started to kick in at that point.”
The Jazz shot 50.6% from the floor, and had 28 assists on 41 baskets. Ricky Rubio had a game-high 10 assists in his Jazz debut.
Will Barton led Denver with 23 points, but only four in the second half.
Utah next plays at Minnesota Friday night.