DENVER (AP) — Mason Plumlee watched as his 3-pointer swished through the net, and the big man started to shimmy down the court as the Denver bench erupted in celebration.
No one expected Plumlee to drain one from beyond the arc, but the Nuggets are doing a lot of things nobody expected this season.
Gary Harris scored 20 points and Malik Beasley and Plumlee hit key 3-pointers in a fourth-quarter flurry, leading Denver to a 103-88 victory over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.
The Nuggets outscored the Jazz 35-15 in the fourth thanks to a gritty defense and Plumlee’s first 3-pointer. He had only taken 18 shots from beyond the arc in his five-year career, including one this season. But this time, he drained one in front of his own bench during an 18-0 run.
“It was the end of the shot clock and we had to get it up so I took it,” Plumlee said. “It’s funny how it started a run. They took a timeout so I could have more time to have fun.”
Jamal Murray scored 19 for Denver, which won its fourth straight and has won eight of nine games so far.
The Nuggets’ great start is due, in part, to an improved defense that is allowing just 101.9 points a game, almost seven fewer than last season. It’s a pace they want to continue throughout the season.
“We’re 8-1 and we have one of the best defenses in the NBA, so why not?” coach Michael Malone said. “That’s our challenge. Let’s not get soft with success.”
Jae Crowder scored 21 points off the bench for Utah, which has lost three straight.
The Jazz got a scare when guard Donovan Mitchell left the game in the fourth quarter with a left ankle injury. Mitchell, who finished with 16 points, missed Friday night’s loss to Memphis with a right hamstring injury. He was helped off favoring his left leg, but returned a few minutes later.
“I was just being a baby,” Mitchell said. “I’m good. I’ve twisted an ankle before. It’s not a great feeling. I don’t tape my ankles, so I’ll probably start.”
Denver’s Nikola Jokic flirted with a triple-double, but finished three points shy of the mark. He had a season-high 16 assists and 10 rebounds. He finished with seven points and has scored just 11 in the last two games combined, but Denver has won both.
The Jazz led 77-71 early in the fourth quarter but went cold as Denver took control. Beasley’s 3-pointer gave the Nuggets a 79-77 lead and Plumlee beat the shot clock with another 3 that increased the lead to five.
Utah missed seven straight shots during a 24-3 run by Denver that turned a six-point deficit into a 95-80 lead. Denver held the Jazz to four made field goals in the fourth.
“A lot of effort, man,” Plumlee said of the defense. “Schematically we’re not doing anything different but the multiple effort’s there.”
The Jazz shot 40.7 from the field and just 19.4 percent from 3-point range.
“The score didn’t reflect our effort,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “But ultimately you’ve got to put the ball in the basket. We weren’t able to do that in the fourth quarter.”
Jazz: G Alec Burks missed his third straight game with a chip fracture in his left hand. He has not played in the last four games. … Favors played 19 minutes despite dealing with left knee soreness. He finished with 12 points.
Nuggets: Denver started the 1976-77 season 8-0, the first season it was in the NBA. … The Nuggets have held four of their opponents to below 100 points. They’ve won all four games.
HOME SWEET HOME
Denver won 31 games at Pepsi Center last season and is 5-0 at home to start this year. It’s a big difference from four seasons ago when the Nuggets finished below 19-22 in Denver.
“I remember getting booed off the court. Nobody was there and tonight it was a sellout,” Harris said. “It shows you how far we’ve come but we still have a long way to go.”
Jazz: Host the Toronto Raptors on Monday.
Nuggets: Host the Boston Celtics on Monday.