• Jamal Murray goes for 50 tonight
  • Donovan Mitchell remains unstoppable with 51 points of his own
  • Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson continue to make difficult shots
  • The Nuggets offense was rolling today
  • It won’t be enough if they can’t get stops

Tonight will be a difficult loss for Denver Nuggets fans to swallow. Denver was so close after giving so much more effort than they had given in Games 2 and 3. As a fan and onlooker, it sucks that they didn’t have the calls go their way, but this loss is a lot easier to digest than the previous debacles.

Still, it is a loss, and there were some important takeaways. Here are five of mine:

Jamal Murray left it all on the floor tonight

If there’s one player on the Nuggets who has never let his effort wax and wane depending on the night, it was Jamal Murray. He wasn’t as effective of a scorer in Games 2 and 3, and there was pressure on him to raise his performance level in Game 4.

He did just that with 50 points to go with 11 rebounds, seven assists, and zero turnovers. He had a plus-minus of +5 in a two-point loss.

Often, the Nuggets go as Jamal goes. He’s the bell-weather for how explosive the Nuggets offense can be, and he had it going tonight. Murray shot 18/31 from the field and 9/15 from three. As the above tweet states, he only got to the line five times but made all five free throws. Down the stretch, he attacked Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert in the lane and appeared to draw a foul, but the referees let the contact go without a whistle. That was probably the toughest pill to swallow in what was ultimately a two-point loss.

There have been many questions about Denver’s effort level as a team throughout this series, but none of those questions have or will be about Murray. He struggled at points, but in Denver’s two competitive games this series, Murray has absolutely brought it and been the most impactful player on the roster. He has raised his level on defense, has shot the ball exceptionally well, and it hasn’t come at the expense of Denver’s offense when he gets on a hot streak.

The Nuggets may be down 3-1 in this series, but the future of Jamal Murray in this league remains bright.

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Donovan Mitchell is still dominating Denver every which way

The Nuggets have had some good moments of defense against Donovan Mitchell over parts of the series, but even when they play good defense, it doesn’t matter. There were several possessions today where Mitchell was put into an awkward position but didn’t force up an awkward shot, instead baiting Denver’s defense in closer and drawing fouls or making shots over tough contests.

Mitchell had 51 points tonight, becoming one of just four players in NBA history to have 50+ twice in a series. He joined Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Allen Iverson.

This is a double-edged sword. On one hand, Mitchell is clearly playing out of his mind. He’s not Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson. On the other hand, the Nuggets are making him look like those players with very little defensive resistance. The Nuggets benched Torrey Craig tonight so they could maintain offensive spacing, but Mitchell burned Jerami Grant on several possessions. Frankly, it didn’t matter who was on Mitchell tonight. Grant, Craig, Monte Morris, Michael Porter Jr., Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap all got scored on tonight. Millsap blocked Mitchell late in the fourth quarter, and later that same possession, Mitchell buried a three in his eye in isolation. That was basically the dagger.

Mitchell is turning into a serious star. Are the Nuggets aiding him in that ascension? Probably.

Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson seemingly can’t miss either

Mike Conley has been a major boost for the Jazz in the last two games. After scoring 27 points in Game 3, he followed that up with another 26 points in Game 4 on just 13 total shots. He was 4/8 from three and 4/5 from two, hitting tough floaters over Jokic’s outstretched arms consistently. That level of shotmaking gives the Jazz something to rely upon every possession when Mitchell sits.

Not to be outdone, Jordan Clarkson scored 24 points on just 13 total shots of his own. More than Conley it felt like Clarkson hit every contested shot he attempted tonight, and that level of perimeter shot making hurt the Nuggets badly. Clarkson was 5/5 in the paint today and made some extremely difficult shots, the ones that Michael Malone will clap on the sideline for because he knows Denver can only do so much against him.

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Denver’s offense was absolutely lighting it up today…

It was a clinic from the Nuggets, primarily Murray and Jokic, on the offensive end today. Both of those guys had it rolling on that end, creating shots for themselves and others consistently. When the Nuggets weren’t hitting, they hit the offensive glass hard with 17 offensive rebounds. They also limited the turnovers to just six total.

Overall, Cleaning The Glass had Denver’s single game offensive rating at 136.6. That ranked in the 96th percentile among all offenses during the 2019-20 season. When Murray goes for 50 and the Nuggets crash the glass hard and only allow six turnovers, it’s hard not to be pleased with the performance.

…But it’s not enough because of the defensive end

On the other end of the spectrum though, Utah’s offense had a single game offensive rating of 140.2, in the 100th percentile among games during the 2019-20 season (quite literally the best) and showing why Denver’s offensive mentality just may not be enough. Utah’s effective field goal percentage for this game was 67.1%, which was also in the 100th percentile on the year.

The Nuggets have run into this problem during the entire series. Utah has been on absolute fire, not because they have the best players or most strategic offensive design, but because they have manipulated Denver’s defense into oblivion. They are attacking Denver’s weaknesses, going after mismatches, and executing those plays at the absolute highest level possible. The Nuggets aren’t making it hard on them. Their weaknesses with Jokic’s mobility and inability to be a true rim protector have been exacerbated by the fact that they can’t guard on the perimeter for five straight possessions, let alone 48 minutes.

Not having Gary Harris nor Will Barton is absolutely a factor, but those two players alone don’t flip the entire script. Denver’s problems will still linger for as long as Jokic is their best player. With him on the floor in the middle of the defense, the Nuggets are always questioning “what are we okay with giving up?” Early in the series, it was threes. Then, it was shots at the rim. Now, the Nuggets have done a good job of forcing midrange shots with drop coverage tonight, but the Jazz hit those shots too.

It’s a dichotomy that Malone, Jokic, and the Nuggets probably won’t solve in this series. Whether they can ever solve will probably determine Denver’s viability as a championship contender with Jokic as the best player.

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