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Utah Jazz-Denver Nuggets series could be decided on the glass

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Utah Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson, back, competes for a rebound with teammate Royce O’Neale, right, and Denver Nuggets’ Monte Morris, left, during overtime in an NBA basketball first round playoff game, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Nuggets’ Jamal Murray (27) looks on. The Nuggets won 135-125 in overtime.

Ashley Landis, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — There was very good reason to think that the Denver Nuggets’ size and length were going to be an issue for the Utah Jazz in the playoffs.

The Nuggets are a big team that has reaped the rewards of their stature throughout the season by being one of the best offensive rebounding squads in the league, and considering the size difference between the teams and the huge advantage that Denver had in games in which it has out-rebounded opponents on the offensive glass, it’s no wonder that it was a huge talking point for both teams leading up to their first-round series.

Jazz-Nuggets playoff schedule

(3) Denver Nuggets

vs. (6) Utah Jazz

Game 1

Nuggets 135, Jazz 125 (OT)
Game 2

Jazz 124, Nuggets 105
Game 3

Jazz 124, Nuggets 87
Game 4

Jazz 129, Nuggets 127
Game 5

Nuggets 117, Jazz 107
Game 6

Nuggets 119, Jazz 107
Game 7

Nuggets 80, Jazz 78, Nuggets win series 4-3

Jazz head coach Quin Snyder and Nuggets head coach Mike Malone have both told their teams that in order to win this series, they have to win the rebounding war.

“It’s something we have to do to win. It’s that simple,” Snyder said on Thursday, “and although it’s that simple on the surface, it’s incredibly difficult in the games.”

The difficulty of limiting the Nuggets’ offensive rebounds often comes because Nikola Jokic is able to draw Rudy Gobert away from the paint, forcing the Jazz’s smaller players to compete directly with the Nuggets’ size at the basket.

“It’s really a point of emphasis for our team,” Gobert said. “Especially with the way they crash the boards and the way my guys have been fighting. I need to go back out there and make sure I get those long rebounds. I really feel like we’re doing a great job, and we’ve got to keep it going.”

If you’re looking only at the box scores from Game 1 and Game 2, the rebounding numbers can be a bit deceiving. The Nuggets had 13 offensive rebounds to the Jazz’s 11 in Game 2, but four of the Nuggets’ rebounds came on a single possession in which they were still unable to score when all was said and done.

In Game 1, the Jazz had the rebounding advantage but failed to capitalize on many of their second-chance opportunities, including two consecutive chances for Tony Bradley on one possession and a hustle rebound by Jordan Clarkson, who saved the ball from going out of bounds only to get the ball back and miss the second-chance 3-pointer.

Malone pointed out that what he’s seen a lot from his team is ball-watching and chasing rather than when the ball goes up, each player making sure they have contact with their man. It’s a good lesson and message for both teams considering the amount of 3-point shooting that’s happening in this series.

Long rebounds that come as a result of perimeter shooting can often go back into the hands of the shooting team because the defense runs toward the basket in the direction of the ball. No matter the situation though, the messaging from both coaches to their respective team has been that rebounding, and in turn limiting the other team’s rebounds, has to be a team effort.

“There’s no way for us individually to rebound without having a collective purpose,” Snyder said. “That’s something we have to continue to try to do.”

The insertion of Juwan Morgan into the Jazz’s starting lineup has given Utah a little more size than it had through the seeding games in the bubble, but with Mike Conley’s likely return on Friday, the Jazz will again be contending with a size disadvantage. In that case, the emphasis on team rebounding becomes even more critical.

As the coaches make their adjustments and preparations for Game 3, there is a firm belief from both sides that this series could come down to the team that ultimately wins the battle of the boards.