SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Without the injured Nikola Jokic on the court, Rudy Gobert gladly took center stage down the stretch.
Gobert had 23 points and 16 rebounds and Donovan Mitchell added 22 points to lead the Utah Jazz to a 122-110 win over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night in a game where Jokic left with a knee injury.
“When we share the ball on offense, then our defense gets better. I like when that happens and that’s when we play our best basketball,” said Gobert, who had 14 points and eight rebounds in the fourth quarter.
His teammates repeatedly found him near the hoop and the Nuggets even tried Hack-a-Rudy to no avail. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year also short-circuited the Denver offense when it mattered most.
The reigning NBA MVP had 24 points in just 15 first-half minutes before he got hurt.
Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic each contributed 15 for the Jazz, who moved to 3-0 on the season.
Two minutes before halftime, Jokic banged knees with Gobert and stayed down holding his right leg. He eventually got up with assistance and limped to the locker room. He will be examined again, but initial injury report was a knee contusion.
Denver coach Michael Malone doesn’t think it’s too serious.
“I went up to Nikola as he was warming up at halftime. I said, ‘How do you feel?’ He said ‘It feels a little weak’ and I just shut him down. I took the decision (out of his hands). It’s not his decision to make,” Malone said. “He’s far too important to this team for us to risk him being out there if he’s not feeling confident about it.”
Will Barton scored 21 points, Aaron Gordon had 20 points, and Monte Morris added 19 for the Nuggets, who dropped to 2-2. After period of lights-out shooting, Denver went 7-for-19 from the field in the fourth quarter.
“It was just tough. We never really play without Nikola. He’s a big piece of our offense. Just putting guys in different positions and (other) things. It was tough at times,” Morris said about Denver’s flagging finish.
Denver took its last lead at 93-91 before Gobert fueled Utah’s decisive move. His free throws finished an 11-2 run and the Jazz stayed in front the rest of the way.