The Denver Nuggets looked to bounce back from a tough loss in game three and even their series with the Los Angeles Clippers. Unfortunately for Denver, Kawhi Leonard was up to the task while no one outside of Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr were up to it on their side. Despite a spirited run mid-game to get them back in it, the Nuggets fell apart in the second half and let L.A. run away with it late. Nuggets trail wire to wire, lose 85-96 and fall down three games to one in the series.
The Clippers jumped out to an early lead behind their bigs and some cold shooting on Denver’s part. It wouldn’t be until the 8:25 mark of the quarter before the Nuggets finally got a field goal. Jokic was the only player on Denver’s side scoring at all while the Clippers stars started to heat up at the midway point of the quarter. The Nuggets continued to get absolutely nothing, quite literally, from anyone other than Jokic. Just before the three minute mark, with L.A. now up thirteen points, coach Michael Malone was forced to take a timeout as Denver had scored just 7 points, 6 from Nikola. It didn’t improve in the closing minutes of the quarter, by the time the period was done the Nuggets were down by fourteen and Michael Porter Jr’s one field goal was the only one from a Nugget not named Nikola.
The second started just like the first had gone, except MPJ was the only one hitting field goals. His scoring alone kept the lead from growing even more but the Nuggets weren’t closing the gap either. Their defense tightened up and started to slow the Clippers around the halfway mark of the quarter but the offense was still abysmal. That is, everyone except Porter was abysmal. MPJ was now not only keeping the Nuggets in the game pretty much entirely on his own, but slowly chipping away at L.A.’s lead. With two minutes left, after a Jerami Grant dunk, the Nuggets has got it down to an eight point deficit. It was a clank fest down the stretch and the half closed with the Clippers still leading by eight.
Gary Harris and Jokic opened the half with back to back threes while the Clippers committed five fouls before two minutes had passed and just like that it was a tie game. The Clippers got back to scoring while the refs dominated the action and L.A. built back a small lead. Kawhi got into rhythm after that which helped stretch the Clipper lead back to double digits. Murray in particular was having a brutal quarter and looked completely out of it. Malone also inexplicably stuck with a lineup that featured Torrey Craig, Paul Millsap and Grant and it was at that point the game really got off the rails. Towards the end of the quarter the Nuggets energy picked up a bit but the shots weren’t falling. Monte Morris got a couple of fouls at the end of the quarter and pulled Denver within ten with a quarter to go.
Jokic started the fourth on the bench and the Nuggets offense stalled once again while MPJ took his lumps on defense. Montrezl Harrell suddenly caught fire and pushed the Clipper lead to fifteen. George hit a pair of threes and Kawhi got another layup to get the lead to nineteen and it looked like the Nuggets were ready to call it a night. They still had some fight in them though, they pulled back within twelve with three minutes to go which prompted a Doc Rivers timeout. After the TO things calmed down for L.A. and the game in general as the refs decided to review every possible call. Ultimately, the Nuggets couldn’t get any closer and ran out of time. Clippers win 96-85.
Best Matchup: Montrezl Harrell vs Nikola Jokic
It was the bigs who provided the entertainment tonight. In what was a very grind it out type game, Harrell and Jokic did battle down low and both had big nights. Joker was the only offense to speak of for the Nuggets during multiple stretches of the game while Harrell effectively shut the door on Denver in the fourth. In a game where Paul George took himself out by getting into foul trouble the Nuggets had a golden opportunity to put the brakes on the L.A. offense and in many ways they did, but they let the sixth man of the year get the best of them tonight and that hurt big time.
Main thing I noticed: coaching decisions were suspect
This game was lost in the third quarter after Denver had tied the game and then suddenly became unable to score. Malone stuck with the Craig/Grant/Millsap combo way too long during that stretch. It’s particularly egregious because Porter was one of the few players actually contributing on offense and he sat and watched while L.A. rebuilt their lead. Keeping Craig out there was also particularly confusing given George played less than two minutes in the third because of foul trouble and Craig gave Denver nothing on the offensive side of the ball. Simply put there was zero reason to have him out there during that run and that decision played a huge role in the Denver loss.
Closing thought: they’re done
Normally I don’t like to be the negative Nancy even after a loss but it’s obvious the Nuggets aren’t winning this series. The Clippers have won via blowout, by being resilient and outlasting the Nuggets and tonight by grinding Denver into submission. Even in the Nuggets one win they let L.A. make a game out of one that never should have been. With Murray unable to get going, and with no other player that Malone will give 35 minutes to capable of stepping up on offense, I consider this Nuggets goose to be thoroughly cooked.