The Nuggets played well, but couldn’t execute in the final minutes of the fourth quarter against Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as they lost Game 3
Paul George had a nice offensive night, finishing with 32 points in 40 minutes, stepping up to the challenge in a pivotal game.
Nikola Jokic was outstanding for the Nuggets, finishing two assists shy of a triple-double with 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists. While he was incredible on offense, he also had seven turnovers, coughing the ball up too many times and giving the Clippers opportunities to score in transition. Michael Porter Jr. had an up-and-down game, putting up a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds but getting targeted frequently on defense by the Clippers.
The Nuggets offense was clicking to start the game, moving the ball around through Jokic to get good looks and convert shot attempts into points. Their defense was pretty solid too, although the Clippers made a couple contested shots. Patrick Beverley kept yapping, with his antics from the last game costing him $25,000, and Doc Rivers subbed him out around the six-minute mark. When the reserves started checking into the game, the Nuggets were holding onto a 19-18 lead, with Jokic already with 8 points. Paul George and Monte Morris traded 3-pointers, as the Clippers kept their two star wings on the court for extended minutes in the first quarter. Torrey Craig air-balled his first 3-pointer, then fouled Lou Williams on the other end of the court. The Clippers continued to shoot the ball well, hitting 30 points with two minutes remaining in the quarter. MPJ had a nice putback dunk off a missed layup from Grant, making a good impact off the ball. Jokic had back-to-back plays where he completely fooled the defense and found an open Monte Morris for wide open layups.
The Nuggets started the second quarter well, going on a run that was punctuated by another putback dunk from Michael Porter Jr. to give them a 5-point lead, 41-36. Plumlee drew a charge on Montrezl Harrell, then finished an alley-oop from Jamal Murray on the other end of the court. Doc Rivers put Kawhi Leonard back out early to try to quell the run, and he hit a contested jumper to steady the ship. MPJ hit a couple 3-pointers, finding his shot early to help keep the offense producing points. Denver caught LA sleeping after Kawhi was called for traveling, and Jokic threw a full-court pass to Harris, who dove to the rim and dunked over Leonard. Harris made another shot, and Jokic was able to get a layup to stretch the lead to twelve points. Leonard got a run started, and the Clippers overpowered the Nuggets to close out the quarter. Jokic struggled to adapt to the referees letting the two teams play a really physical game, and he turned the ball over a ton in the final few minutes. The Nuggets lead 59-57 at the end of the first half, but after having a 12-point lead with 3:34 left, it was definitely a disappointing final stretch for the quarter.
Millsap was able to get a tough bucket in the paint to start the third quarter, and Paul George kept on attacking the Nuggets defense to get a basket too. Jokic had another full-court heave, this time catching Leonard sleeping on Jerami Grant, who got his first basket of the game on a two-handed dunk. Jokic slung a 3-pointer in at the end of a possession that was nearly perfectly defended by the Clippers, continuing to have success with Zubac defending him. Paul George definitely flopped, drawing the charge foul on Jokic, and the refs called him for a makeup call on the next possession. Gary Harris pulled the trigger on a 3-pointer with a ton of time on the shot clock, and then Paul George hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to three points, just a really tough series of events for Denver. The Clippers were able to take the lead after the reserves checked in, with Lou Williams making a couple shots to put them up by one point. Michael Porter Jr straight up jumped over Montrezl Harrell for a dunk, an incredible play that should have ended the game. The Nuggets successfully executed a transition play to close out the quarter, and held an 88-84 lead going into the fourth quarter.
MICHAEL PORTER JR THROWS IT DOWN. pic.twitter.com/E6o93iMGH2— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) September 8, 2020
MPJ started the fourth quarter with another putback dunk, just continuing to punish the rim on the offensive glass. He did airball a baseline jumper, and then got stripped on a questionable play by Beverley, but Murray righted things by getting to the free throw line. Porter Jr. was able to score on a drive against Harrell, and the defense continued to do a good job rebounding after misses to help finish defensive possessions. After the Nuggets took a seven point lead, the Clippers called timeout and responded with an 8-0 run. Jokic picked up two quick fouls, then Murray threw away a pass after a Clippers miss, a painful series of plays. Harris was able to work with Jokic and get to the free throw line.
Jokic got Zubac to foul out on a post-up, forcing the Clippers to put Montrezl Harrell back on the court. A crazy series of events after a Harris airball wound up with Grant laying the ball in, but PG13 got to the free throw line on the other end to keep the score up for the Clippers. Grant couldn’t connect on a corner 3-point attempt, and the Nuggets had to foul Harrell on the other end, where he split his pair to put the Clippers up by four points. Grant missed three straight shots, and the Nuggets really needed those points down the stretch. Murray tried to dunk on Leonard, but the reigning Finals MVP was able to get his middle finger on the ball and deflect it enough to cause a miss. Jokic missed a hook shot on a post-up against Marcus Morris, and that was the ballgame for the Nuggets.
The Nuggets had a seven-point lead with 8:29 remaining, and after a Clippers timeout, were outscored 23-10 to close out the quarter. There were too many offensive possessions that didn’t end in quality looks, and too many defensive possessions that ended with the Clippers at the free throw line. Los Angeles took 26 free throw attempts in the game, and with the 12 Denver turnovers, that wasn’t a formula for success tonight.