SALT LAKE CITY — Derrick Favors was his typical presence on defence, blocking and altering shots. It was a different story on offence until the most important moment of the game.
Favours was clanging shots and shooting airballs Wednesday night until he found himself open on the baseline and knocked down a key jumper that sent the Utah Jazz to an 85-81 win over the Denver Nuggets, extending their season-best winning streak to four games.
"It was a relief for me, man, just to see one go in. I was missing badly out there, but that one felt so good," Favors said.
Favours missed 16 games with back problems and the Jazz have been a different defensive team since his return five games ago. Utah, which also got 16 points from Gordon Hayward, has won five straight against the Nuggets.
Favors made that crucial 11-footer with 1:28 to play and then corralled a big offensive rebound and was fouled with 56 seconds remaining. He converted one of two free throws to give the Jazz an 82-77 lead, their largest of the game.
"I was having a bad night offensively so I had to make up for it defensively. Getting all the blocked shots, just being in the right spot at the right time," Favours said.
Danilo Gallinari, who scored 24 points, hit two free throws and Kenneth Faried made a follow shot sandwiched around a free throw by Rudy Gobert, but the Nuggets couldn’t gain possession of a loose ball with 7 seconds left for a possible game-winner. The ball was first given to Denver, but the call was reversed on replay.
"It was a lack of execution, once again. The fourth quarter we had five turnovers and they had four offensive rebounds," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "We just weren’t able to close the deal."
Hayward, who had 14 points in the second half, made two free throws to clinch it.
"We played with a lot of grit tonight even though we didn’t play very well," Utah coach Quin Snyder said.
The Nuggets, who went 4 for 17 from the field in the final period, have lost six of nine. Faried scored 14 points, Gary Harris had 11 and Will Barton 10 for Denver.
"We forced them into taking tough, contested shots and I think that is what kept us in the game," Hayward said. "Even though we weren’t hitting our shots, we hung around, hung around and pulled into a lead in the fourth."
The Jazz, who have hovered around the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference for much of the year, are making the most of their longest homestand of the season. The finale of the six-game set is Friday against Milwaukee.
Favours, often soft-spoken and humble, acknowledged the Jazz are much better with him in the lineup.
"I do make a difference," he said. "I just come out and provide a presence in the paint, defensively and offensively. I play hard."
In an often ragged game, neither team could gain a double-digit advantage. Amid a preponderance of pushing and grabbing, the Nuggets succeeded in getting to the free throw line 33 times to Utah’s 20 — including 14 in the fourth quarter.
The Jazz went 5 of 22 from beyond the 3-point line, most on wide-open looks, but played tough enough on the defensive end to garner another victory.
"Guys aren’t going to have it going offensively every game so you need to find ways to contribute to the game, whether it’s hustle plays, defence or whatever. We did that tonight," Favors said.
Before the game, Malone stressed the importance of playing at a quick pace against the Jazz and urged his team to hit the century mark. The Nuggets didn’t come close to reaching that goal but made Utah’s offensive sets look haphazard and deflected a bevy of Jazz passes.
The Jazz are 10-0 when holding opponents under 90 points.
"That’s how they want to play. We have a hard time when you force us to play that way. That’s just the reality," Malone said.
Nikola Jokic, who had 27 points and 14 rebounds for the Nuggets in a 122-93 win Monday over Toronto, struggled with the Jazz big men and the effects of a left shoulder strain. Jokic had eight points and six rebounds.
Nuggets: G Jameer Nelson was inactive and has missed eight of the last 10 games with a sprained left wrist. . With 33.6 seconds left until halftime, Gallinari was called for a flagrant 1 foul for an elbow that connected with Gobert’s face. . Whenever possible, the Jazz played Trevor Booker on offence and substituted Gobert in for defence during the final minutes.
Jazz: Alec Burks, out with a broken leg since Dec. 26, is eyeing a return within two to three weeks. … Utah’s 10 blocks tied a season high, matching the effort against Memphis on Nov. 7. . Utah held Denver to one field goal in the final 4:25.
Favours blocked two shots and Booker swatted another on one Denver possession late in the third quarter. The sequence sparked the Jazz.
"That really got our crowd excited and got us going. We were really sluggish at that point even though the score was tit-for-tat. We picked it up after that," Rodney Hood said.
The Jazz hounded Gallinari all game long but he still topped 20 points for the fourth time in five games and the 23rd game overall this season. The Italian forward went 5 for 16 from the field but got to the foul line 14 times and made 12.
Nuggets: Host Chicago on Friday.
Jazz: Host Milwaukee on Friday.