Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): The Nuggets have a tall task in front of them. It is one thing to overcome a 3-1 deficit against a young Utah Jazz team, it is another to do it against a championship caliber team like the Los Angeles Clippers. Denver is going to have to find a way to score if they have any chance in coming back in this series.
Not only did the Nuggets struggle to score in Game 4, but the second half of Game 3 was more of the same. The Nuggets offense just hasn’t been the same the past six quarters and they have lost two winnable games because of it. If they have any shot at all in coming back in this series, the offense has to get back on track.
Nick Hertzog (@NickHertzogSBN): They have to fire Mike Malone. I’m kidding. But Malone does need to give this team some sort of direction on offense. The defense has been there. The Clippers—the number one offense in the bubble—were held to 96 points in Game 4. Some credit for the Nuggets’ offensive struggle has to go the Clippers, but an equal amount of blame goes to this coaching staff, which too often fails to make offensive adjustments during games. Case in point is Millsap and Craig playing together while Paul George sat early in the third. There’s no excuse for bottling up the offense with defense-only players while one of the Clippers’ elite perimeter defenders sits. If they don’t get MPJ more involved and figure out how to take advantage of the attention Murray is getting, we’re looking at a gentlemen’s sweep.
Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): They have to play a complete game every night. This team has shown that they can hang with the Clippers, and they can beat them. However, they aren’t playing four quality quarters, and they’re getting beat because of it. The Clippers have guys that can take over a quarter with their offense. Denver just doesn’t do that with how they’re constructed. Additionally, you have to give the right guys minutes. Millsap has looked like a shell of himself since these playoffs have gotten started. I understand he brings a veteran presence and defensive identity, but, at some point, you have to put the guys on the floor that are actually contributing to the team.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): They had to win Game 4. Now they have to win 3 in a row against a team that knows they are only willing to use 2 scorers and has the length and athleticism to clamp down on one of those options. The Nuggets would have to swim in uncharted waters and do things they don’t normally do, namely create on offense without being predictable and put scoring over Playing The Correct Way.
Who is the x-factor if the Nuggets are going to have any shot to come back in this series?
Ewing: Michael Porter Jr. is the easy choice, but I think Jerami Grant is going to be the difference. Grant’s defense on Kawhi Leonard in Game 2 was a massive reason why the Nuggets won that game. Not only did Grant defend at a high level, but he scored the ball as well. We just haven’t seen that in the past few games, which is why I think Grant is the x-factor the remainder of this series. If Grant can slow down Leonard just a little bit and mirror that with 15-20 points a night, the Nuggets might be able to make a series out of this.
Hertzog: The obvious answer here is MPJ, but I actually think Grant could really change things. He has played respectable defense on the big wings of the Clippers, but his offense has suffered as a result. Seven points and zero offensive (or defensive) rebounds in 34 minutes just isn’t good enough from a player who the Clippers are consistently leaving wide open. A good shooting night from him would go along way toward turning this thing around.
Bridgford: Well, considering they both didn’t choose the easy choice, I will. It’s Porter. He was the team’s third-best offensive player in Game 4, and he didn’t even get the number of touches that he should have. He knows it, and so does everyone else. This guy is a mismatch waiting to happen, and he can go shot-for-shot with guys like Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams. Get him on the floor, and scheme touches for him. If you go down with him shooting, you live with that.
Gross: Grant has been abominable this series on the offensive end. The last 3 games he’s played 116 minutes and gone 8-for-30 from the field and 2-for-17 from deep. MPJ would be the player who needs touches, but is not getting them - and in the scheme is playing the Torrey Craig role where his spot is not supposed to get them (though he is firing them up when he does get touches anyway). Grant, however, gets plenty of designed touches to wind up and shoot. He’s their designated floor stretcher. I don’t see Denver getting MPJ many more shots than he’s already getting, but Grant actually making shots would make a world of difference.
Prediction for how the series ends.
Ewing: Clippers in 5. I usually like to be optimistic, but a part of me just thinks the Nuggets are out of gas. In a must win Game 4, the Nuggets just didn’t show much fight, which leads me to believe it will be more of the same come Friday night.
Hertzog: Clippers in 6. The Nuggets have a final surge left in them that will nab them Game 5, but when the dust settles at the end of Game 6, the Clippers will have won going away, and we will all be left with a frustrating offseason filled with what-ifs and major question marks at two or three positions. At this point, my main concern isn’t winning the series, actually—I want to see if the Nuggets can effectively incorporate MPJ into the offense and find some sort of identity to build on next year.
Bridgford: I’m going with Nick here. I think Denver is able to steal one more game, but I think this ends in six. That was my original prediction for this series, and I think it remains true. The Clippers have shown their vulnerabilities to this Nuggets’ roster, and it’s just a matter of them capitalizing on them. Jokic has the ability to take over a game, and I think we see him do that in Game 5 before they’re taken down in Game 6.
Gross: I said Clippers in 6 at the start of this series, and I stand by it. Denver makes some shots and pulls out a win, Clippers clamp down the next game again and advance. It would take some serious shot-making from Denver, as well as a change in offensive approach to alter that outcome, but I’m here for it if it happens.