SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – Ochai Agbaji scored a career-high 28 points to lead the Utah Jazz to a 118-114 victory over the Western Conference leading Denver Nuggets on Saturday.
Luka Samanic finished with a career-high 23 points and eight rebounds for Utah. Kris Dunn chipped in 19 points, a season-high 14 assists and eight rebounds. Simone Fontecchio added 15 points.
The Jazz snapped a four-game losing streak and won for just the second time in 10 games. Their zone defense limited the Nuggets to 35 total shots in the paint. Utah, on the other hand, scored 32 baskets in the paint.
“We did a good job tonight making Denver play a type of game they don’t want to play,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “We wanted them to play over the top of us if they were going to beat us.”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored a season-high 21 points for the Nuggets. Jamal Murray added 20 points and five assists. Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. chipped in 15 points apiece. Nikola Jokic tallied 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Denver lost for the fifth time in six games.
“We started off very slow, but we picked it up second quarter and end of the third quarter,” Caldwell-Pope said. “For us to start that way, we can’t come out slow like that.”
After trailing the entire first half, Denver surged ahead late in the third quarter. Caldwell-Pope buried back-to-back 3s to spark a 19-4 run that gave the Nuggets a 95-87 lead. Murray and Gordon punctuated the decisive run with two more outside baskets.
Utah rallied in the fourth quarter with Denver’s starters on the bench. Agbaji scored three baskets to key a 10-1 run that put the Jazz up 116-110 in the final minute.
He bounced back from a tough outing against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday by putting together one of his best rookie season performances on Saturday – with his family in attendance.
“I just feel like after the last game, I had to kind of show them something a little bit more,” Agbaji said.
Agbaji also lit a fire under the Jazz offense in the first quarter. He made five baskets and scored 12 points overall to help Utah sprint out to a 26-8 lead.
Denver struggled out of the gates. The Nuggets missed seven of their first eight shots and committed four turnovers in the first six minutes to fall behind by double digits.
“Horrendous start to the game,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We just kind of showed up but give Utah credit because they built a 19-point lead early on.”
Denver nearly erased the deficit late in the second quarter. Jokic made a layup and assisted two other baskets to fuel a 12-0 run that cut Utah’s lead to 54-53 in the final minute before halftime.
The Nuggets took their first lead of the game early in the third quarter when Porter buried a 3-pointer to put Denver up 61-58.
FALSE START The opening moments of the game turned into a comedy of errors.
Jokic committed a loose ball foul on the opening tip. Agbaji immediately countered with a turnover when he tried to hand the ball to Dunn instead of throwing an inbound pass.
“Weird way to start off the game, but it was fine,” Agbaji said.
Jokic was held to six points on 2-of-5 shooting. Caldwell-Pope blocked two shots, matching a season-high, and went 6-of-8 from 3-point range.
Micah Potter finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds – both career highs. Dunn had three steals, matching his season high. Only nine Utah players dressed for the game.
The Jazz will wrap up the regular season Sunday in Los Angeles against the Lakers.