SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Donovan Mitchell got fired up after being told he wasn’t playing good enough.
Mitchell matched his career high with 46 points and led the Utah Jazz to a 118-108 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night.
Mitchell was 14 of 26 from the field and 13 of 16 from the free-throw line.
The seeds for Mitchell’s performance were planted Monday when Jazz coach Quin Snyder tore into Mitchell and Rudy Gobert for sub-par performances in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The pair came out against Denver exactly the way the coach had hoped.
Mitchell was seemingly unstoppable on offense. Gobert dominated at both ends of the court, finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
“I don’t like being told what you’re good at. I like being told what I can’t do,” Mitchell said. “I could tell you several different things I didn’t do. I prefer that, as opposed to saying, ‘Oh, (I scored) 46.’ That helps you build character. It helps you build mentally and just learning the game. I don’t like being told that I’m pretty good.”
Mitchell has faced a wide variety of defensive looks all season and keeps finding ways to improve his game. His aggressive mindset in those situations is making the whole team better.
“If he missed all those shots in the first quarter, we still want him taking the same shots,” guard Joe Ingles said. “From the start of last year to now, two years in, he just keeps getting better and better every game.”
Derrick Favors scored 16 points and Ingles added 10 points and 13 assists as Utah won its last eight regular-season home games.
Denver didn’t have an answer for Mitchell from the opening tip, and the Nuggets played from behind for much of the game.
Malik Beasley scored 25 points to lead Denver. Monte Morris added a career-high 22 points and Jamal Murray had 22. Gary Harris scored 15 points for the Nuggets, who lost their second straight.
“We can play better,” Morris said. “Earlier in the year, that’s when I feel like we was playing our best, but we’re on the right track.”
Mitchell scored 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting in 11 minutes in the first quarter as the Jazz raced to a lead. Mitchell took a steal in for a layup and drained a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions to help Utah to a double-digit lead, 24-12, late in the quarter.
The Nuggets erased almost all their deficit in the second quarter. Harris scored back-to-back baskets to cap a 12-4 run that cut Utah’s lead to 41-38.
The Nuggets pulled within a point later in the quarter, but missed a chance to take their first lead when Nikola Jokic missed a pair of free throws. Ingles answered with a 3-pointer at the other end that sparked a 9-3 run as Utah moved ahead 58-51 just before halftime.
After trailing the entire first half, Denver took its first lead at 61-60 when Harris hit a jumper to open the third quarter. The Nuggets gave themselves a chance to rally after getting strong performances from several bench players.
“Thank goodness for our bench,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Our bench was terrific, they got us back into the game. We had a couple guys in our starting lineup that just weren’t into the game, for whatever reason.”
Mitchell gave the Jazz some breathing room again later in the period when he converted a three-point play to spark a 13-3 run. Favors cut to the rim for a dunk to finish off the outburst and put Utah ahead 89-79.
Denver closed to within a basket again after consecutive baskets by Morris and Mason Plumlee cut the Jazz lead to 95-92. The Nuggets never got closer.
The Jazz scored on seven straight possessions, punctuated by a dunk from Royce O’Neale off a steal that gave Utah a 114-98 lead with 3:24 remaining.
The Nuggets maintained a half-game lead over Houston Rockets, who lost 112-111 to Oklahoma City, in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. Denver can secure the No. 2 spot with a win over Minnesota on Wednesday.
Utah is in fifth place in the conference standings at 50-31. The Jazz closed out the season at the Clippers.
Gobert notched his 200th career double-double. He had his biggest impact down the stretch, scoring nine of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to help Utah pull away.
“I really thought that Rudy’s finishing in the latter part of the season has continued to get better,” Snyder said. “Not a typical Rudy game, but the way we need Rudy to play.”
Utah has won eight straight games where Gobert has posted 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Nikola Jokic played only 16 minutes before fouling out in the fourth quarter. He finished with a season-low two points on 1-of-6 shooting and a season-low two rebounds. Without their star center on the court for long stretches, the Nuggets struggled with Gobert and Favors around the basket on both ends of the court.
“Obviously when your best player fouls out in 16 minutes, it’s gonna make it really hard to win on the road,” Malone said. “Nikola is important for us, and this was not a typical Nikola Jokic night.”
Nuggets: Morris had his fifth 20-point game of the season. … Nikola Jokic played only 16 minutes before fouling out in the fourth quarter. He finished with a season-low two points on 1-of-6 shooting and a season-low two rebounds. Denver outscored Utah 64-18 in bench points.
Jazz: Favors played for the first time in April after missing the previous four games with back spasms. … Ingles had his seventh game with at least 10 assists this season. Six have come since the All-Star break. … Utah had a 48-31 advantage on rebounds and a 13-6 edge in second-chance points.
Nuggets: Host Minnesota on Wednesday.
Jazz: At Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.