SALT LAKE CITY — The Denver Nuggets’ social media team might have a tweet worth deleting from their account.
The photo: Donovan Mitchell, standing in front of Nikola Jokic, seemingly with a perplexed look of concern and consternation on his face.
The caption: “When you realize you have to face the best center in the NBA in the first round...”
Whoever writes the Nuggets’ tweets might not get out of the Pepsi Center very often.
The Nuggets were coming off of an exciting Game 1 win in which they survived Mitchell’s 57-point offensive explosion, so it’s fine and fun that the favored team did a little pregame trash-talking ahead of Game 2.
(3) Denver Nuggets
vs. (6) Utah Jazz
Nuggets 135, Jazz 125 (OT)
Jazz 124, Nuggets 105
Jazz 124, Nuggets 87
Jazz 129, Nuggets 127
Nuggets 117, Jazz 107
Nuggets 119, Jazz 107
Nuggets 80, Jazz 78, Nuggets win series 4-3
And nobody’s going to hold anything against an NBA team’s staff for good-naturedly bragging up their own 7-footer who happens to be a two-time All-Star and who did compile a rare 30/20/10 game earlier this season by racking up 30 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists during a 98-95 Denver win over Utah in February.
But Mitchell hasn’t faced the best center in the NBA during the first round. Not by a long shot. Spida has complemented him on the court as the Jazz have taken a 2-1 series lead following back-to-back blowout wins.
So far, the NBA first round’s best scorer (Mitchell) and most dominant center (Rudy Gobert) are on the same team, facing a flummoxed Nuggets squad that looks like it’s had its bubble burst in Orlando.
Gobert, the two-time-defending NBA Defensive Player of the Year, is also putting up stellar numbers on the offensive side against Denver’s Joker (his nickname, not an insult). The Frenchman reached his 2020 playoffs scoring average of 20 points in the first half Friday and finished with 24 points in a 124-87 Game 3 rout.
“He just played big,” Hall of Fame center and pizza creator Shaquille O’Neal said of Gobert during TNT’s postgame show.
During the halftime show, O’Neal sounded almost jealous of how and what Gobert — not “Goobert,” as he first called him before being corrected — was able to produce as the Jazz seized the early lead. Afterward, O’Neal jokingly called him Kareem Abdul-Gobert because of a surprising left-hook the former Denver draft pick used from his arsenal to score.
Legendary Jazz center Mark Eaton appreciated that, too. Responding to a tweet from yours truly — in which Eaton was asked about the shot that sorta, kinda looked like one he used to take back in the day — the 7-foot-4 center tweeted back, “Got to love it baby! #oldschool Fundamentals never change.”
Fundamentals, indeed. The 7-foot-1 Gobert did an excellent job, as usual, of rolling on the pick and roll, leading to multiple buckets. He smartly positioned himself in just the right spot below the bucket and used his height for a scoring advantage on numerous occasions as teammates established an inside-out game with him. He ensured that there was no dust on the rim with a bunch of dunks throughout the game, too.
Impressively, Gobert had a Mitchell-esque efficient shooting performance, hitting 11 of 14 field goals (atoning for a short-shooting 2-for-5 outing from the free-throw line). Gobert also snatched 14 rebounds, all while being able to get plenty of rest down the stretch after playing 32 minutes.
Gobert said he was just trying to set the tone for the Jazz — something he almost always does on defense even while playing within his offensive role. That was critical early on because Utah started off struggling from outside and Denver’s defense acted helpless against the Jazz center down low. Gobert scored 10 inside points as the Jazz took a 15-10 lead early on and never really looked back.
“It’s all about the way my teammates are able to attack and find me or find another man,” Gobert said, “and no matter what defense they throw at us, they know and we know how to beat that defense and try to make the right decision.”
That, despite the Nuggets providing a formidable foe in Jokic, who’s put up some decent individual numbers in the first three games but hasn’t helped his team gain an overall advantage on the Jazz like Gobert has against Denver. In Friday’s loss, Jokic, a gifted and versatile scorer, only had 15 points on 6 of 13 shooting vs. Utah’s defensive behemoth.
“His commitment, his spacing, trusting his teammates. When they’re finding him, he’s doing a great job,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of Gobert. “He’s running effective pick and roll, he’s rolling to the rim. He’s allowing our guards to drive the ball and he’s on the other end of those drives. Those guys are unbelievably unselfish, and his ability to trust them and their ability to trust him, that’s hard to guard. In that sense, when there’s space, Rudy is responsible for creating that many times.”
Three days after the much-maligned Nuggets tweet — one which was panned by many Jazz fans and “liked” by Mitchell and Gobert, in an insult-duly-noted manner, no doubt — you have to wonder if the Nuggets’ social media manager forgot to add something.
A clarifying line of, “Just kidding, you have The Stifle Tower on your team!”
Or maybe a plea to not allow that post to backfire on Denver if Gobert went out and dominated Jokic.