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Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz fend off Denver Nuggets

IT didn’t follow the script from a memorable 2020 first-round series, but the visiting Utah Jazz earned a bit of revenge and their fifth win in a row by defeating the Denver Nuggets (109-105) in an entertaining rivalry showdown on Sunday night.

Jordan Clarkson, not Donovan Mitchell, led the Jazz with a team-high 23 points off the bench. Mitchell, who averaged 36.3 points against the Nuggets in their seven-game, first-round series last summer, finished with 18 points after a rough start.

Bojan Bogdanović, who couldn’t play against Denver in the playoffs because of a wrist injury, was a bright spot for Utah with 17 points.

Rudy Gobert contributed 15 points and 13 rebounds, Mike Conley added 14 points and eight assists, and Georges Niang provided valuable backup minutes and scored 11 as Utah won its seventh road game.

Nikola Jokić continued his torrid start to the season with 35 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists, but Denver fell behind early, finally took a lead, but couldn’t fend off the Jazz in the second half.

Jamal Murray picked up where he left off against the Jazz, whom the Nuggets beat three straight times to advance after falling behind 3-1. The Denver guard, who had a pair of 50-point games and averaged 31.6 points in the first round, scored 24 points in the opening half. His offensive explosion and a 9-0 run helped the Nuggets take a 58-53 halftime lead.

However, Murray didn’t score in the third quarter and finished with 30 points after the red-hot first half.

Denver pulled within 94-92 thanks to a Jokić basket, but Derrick Favors followed with a three-point play and Mitchell attacked the basket as Utah went ahead 103-94.

The Nuggets clawed back to within one with a late 7-0 run, but Mitchell hit a tough turnaround shot and then Royce O’Neale sank two free throws and made a game-clinching assist to Gobert in the final seconds.

The Jazz held a lead for most of the first half, going ahead by as many as 10 points, despite Murray’s blistering start and a quiet two quarters by Mitchell. The Jazz’s All-Star guard only scored two points before the break on 1-of-10 shooting and six misses beyond the arc. — Reuters

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