Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap (4) guards Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, May 7, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic is flourishing in a larger offensive role. His renewed confidence in his shot is opening the door for Bogdanovic to take over games by scoring at will.
Bogdanovic scored a career-high 48 points to rally the Utah Jazz past the Denver Nuggets 127-120 on Friday night. Nothing the Nuggets did against him defensively mattered. He attacked the rim and rained down outside shots in equal measure.
Bogdanovic went 16 of 23 from the field — making a career-high eight 3-pointers — to lead the NBA-leading Jazz to their fourth straight victory. He also had eight rebounds.
When the Utah forward scored his final points on a pair of free throws with 12.3 seconds left, amid chants of “Bogey! Bogey!” from the crowd, he felt like he had taken another big step forward on the path back from a wrist injury that prematurely ended his season a year ago.
“I’m playing better. I’m shooting the ball better,” Bogdanovic said. “So I’m getting in the right shape in the right moment right before the playoffs.”
Many of his shots came at critical moments to help the Jazz weather an early flurry of Denver baskets. Bogdanovic’s playmaking skills steadied Utah’s offense.
“What didn’t we see from him tonight?” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He was making great reads. He really scored every way possible.”
Jordan Clarkson added 21 points and eight assists. Rudy Gobert had 14 points and nine rebounds, and Georges Niang chipped in 13 points – all in the second half.
Michael Porter, Jr. scored 31 points for Denver. Nikola Jokic added 24 points, 13 assists, and nine rebounds, Paul Millsap had 20 points and Austin Rivers 18.
Utah did not trail over the final 11:22 of the fourth quarter after Niang hit back-to-back shots to give the Jazz a 103-99 lead. Denver scored just one basket over a six-minute stretch and couldn’t quite erase the resulting deficit.
The Nuggets cut it to 121-118 on a free throw from Rivers. Clarkson answered with a stepback 3-pointer with 51.7 seconds left and Bogdanovic’s two free throws in the final seconds sealed the win.
“It’s a very well-coached team. Players buy in on the system, and they are having fun, they are shooting the ball very well,” Jokic said. “They’re playing defense very well. They’re playing for each other and that’s why they’re the best team in the West.”
An inability to take care of the ball hurt the Nuggets down the stretch. They tallied seven of their 17 turnovers in the fourth quarter, including two on their final two possessions.
“Yeah, so they turned up the heat (and) we didn’t handle it, we turn the ball over,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We scored 120 points tonight, but only 21 in that fourth quarter, so we definitely have to be better than that.”
The Nuggets scored only 47 points in the second half after scoring 73 before halftime.
“We raised our intensity,” Gobert said. “Communication got better. I think we wore them down over the (final) stretch.”
Nuggets: Rivers is 15 of 19 from 3-point range in three games against Utah this season. He went 5 of 7 from long distance on Friday. … Malone was whistled for a technical foul midway through the third quarter after an unsuccessful coach’s challenge. … Jokic made his first seven shots before missing a jumper with 38.4 seconds left in the third quarter.
Jazz: Clarkson has made a 3-pointer in 89 straight games. … Bogdanovic surpassed his previous season-high of 34 points during the third quarter. … Niang did not attempt a shot in the first half. Utah is 17-1 this season when he scores at least 10 points. … Joe Ingles finished with a team-high nine assists.
Bogdanovic’s 48 points is the most scored by a Jazz player during a regular-season game in the 21st century. He finished with the highest single-game point total since Karl Malone finished with 56 points against Golden State on April 7, 1998.
Nuggets: Host Brooklyn on Saturday.
Jazz: Host Houston on Saturday.