Is it just me, or is it shocking that the Utah Jazz are totally dominating the Denver Nuggets right now? Think about it: The Jazz are down two starters, the Nuggets are completely healthy, and Carmelo Anthony is averaging a whopping 34.5 ppg. Not to mention the outright talent advantage that the Nuggets so clearly have over the Jazz. Believe me, I’m a Jazz fan, and I know that the Nuggets have the far superior team. When I compare the players from these teams, it is basically a joke how much better the Nuggets’ team looks on paper. Yet despite that papery illusion, health concerns, and Carmelo’s plethora of points, the Jazz have a 3-1 series lead, and they are just one game away from moving on to the WC Semi-Finals.
So the question, of course, is: How are the Jazz doing this?
Here are just a few explanations:
Lack of Production From JR Smith
– First and foremost, I think that the lack of point production by JR Smith is the number one reason why the Nuggets have struggled and have lost the last 3 games. If you remember, in Game 1 JR Smith was the catalyst for the Nuggets, as he hit multiple back-breaking 3-pointers off of the bench. His inability to score points not only hurts Denver on the scoreboard, but it hurts them from a momentum standpoint. When JR Smith is knocking down shots, the rest of the team feeds off of it, and they begin to play much better. Sure, when Carmelo scores his points in bunches it is uplifting for the team, but it just pales in comparison to a JR Smith point explosion. As long as the Jazz can keep him in check, I don’t see any way that Denver can come back and win this series. On the other hand, if Smith plays amazing from here on out, I wouldn’t even be surprised if the Nuggets took this series. He is that valuable.
– One of the noticeable trends in this series is Utah’s ability to take charges. Because Utah’s defenders are playing disciplined defense, and they getting in front of their men, they are causing the Nuggets to force the issue. When this happens, the Nuggets start settling for questionable shots, and their offense begins to sputter. This, in turn, shifts the momentum in favor of the Jazz, and they are able to open up big leads. Also, because the Jazz are taking so many charges, Carmelo Anthony is pretty much losing his ability to drive effectively. Since ‘Melo can’t really use his big frame to his full advantage, he is being limited to what he can do offensively. Of course, despite this, Carmelo is still averaging ridiculous numbers. I can only imagine what he would be averaging if the Jazz were not taking all of these charges.
– It’s no secret that Deron Williams is having an unbelievable series so far. In fact, if you ask the Nuggets, they will tell you that they have no solution to stopping him. I guess that’s what happens when you face the best point guard in the league. As I have watched this series progress, I have seen that D-Will has reached a comfort level that he doesn’t look like he is going to lose. When the series first started, Williams looked a little shaky, and I wondered if he had the toughness to hang with a veteran team like the Nuggets. But ever since the 3rd quarter of Game 1, all of my doubts have gone away and have remained away. He is scoring plenty of points, and he is dropping tons of dimes, as he leads this high-powered Jazz offense up and down the court with an air of confidence that is so reassuring if you are a Jazz fan. If the Nuggets can’t rattle D-Will, and they don’t figure out how to stop him soon, the series will be over before you know it.
– Coming into the series, Carlos Boozer was question mark because of his oblique injury. Watching him thus far, you would never know it. All you can see, when you watch Boozer play, is a man possessed. He wants to win more than anybody else on the court, and you can see it based on his body language and his hustle. When Boozer is on the court, the Jazz offense is extremely fluid and fun to watch. When he is not on the court, it is quite the opposite. I remember watching the last game of the regular season wondering why Boozer didn’t feel the urgency to play. However, now that I see how good he is playing against Denver, I can’t question his decision any longer. At the end of the day, you need your guys to perform at their best during the playoffs. And by the looks of things right now, C-Booze is doing just that.
Role Players Stepping Up
– Outside of Williams and Boozer, the Jazz have been successful because of the contributions of the role players. Wesley Matthews and CJ Miles are each providing tremendous minutes for the Jazz, and they are proving that they can be trusted in the postseason. Not only are they providing more-than-sufficient stats on the offensive side of the ball, but they are each stepping it up on defense as well(taking charges, locking down their men, etc.). Paul Millsap’s role is hard to miss, especially after his fantastic 22 and 19 performance in Game 3. And Kyle Korver continues to be that silky smooth jump shooter that drives the defense crazy. Even Fes and KOOF are doing a solid enough job on Denver’s bigs, as they attempt to clog up the middle. There’s also the fact that they can occasionally make me go insane when they put the ball through the hoop. So overall, Utah’s role players are truly stepping it up, and right now they are the difference in the series. Without their production, the Jazz would be nowhere at the moment.
– Like I mentioned in the beginning, the Jazz roster lacks the talent that the Nuggets’ roster possesses. However, the Jazz seem to have an edge when it comes to cohesion. Everybody on the team is playing an important role, and it is that unity, along with their unmatchable heart, that has made them so tough to beat in this series and all season long. When it comes to the playoffs, every team that is involved is going to have a certain amount of ability. But what separates the men from the boys are the intangibles. The heart, the grit, the “never-count-us-out” attitude, and the undeniable mental toughness, have all come into play in this series, and they are key reasons why the Jazz have been able to outlast their opponent in 3 out of 4 games. If those things continue to favor the Jazz, as I believe they will, then the Jazz can get ready for second round of the playoffs.