• Fourth quarter lead slips away
  • Nikola Jokic continues to dominate
  • Jamal Murray needs to be better
  • Michael Porter Jr. has a strong performance
  • Free throw disparity is difficult to overcome

They were so, so close.

My five takeaways on tonight’s Denver Nuggets loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 3.

Fourth quarter lead slips away

The Nuggets had momentum that they lost at the end of the second quarter. They built that momentum back up to seven points with a Jerami Grant three-pointer at the 8:29 mark that forced a Clippers timeout. at the 7:01 mark, the Nuggets called a timeout after the Clippers blitzed them for 90 seconds to retake a one-point lead. From that point until the three minute mark, the two teams played it about even. Grant had several opportunities on open shots but couldn’t get any of them to fall, a byproduct of chasing a round Kawhi Leonard for 40 minutes a night to be clear. Still, he has to make those shots, and he missed them tonight.

The Nuggets can normally rely upon a rock solid clutch time unit featuring Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Neither of those guys scored from the 6:00 mark to the 1:09 mark on a Jokic floater to cut LA’s lead to six, but at that point, the damage was already done. A couple of misses, inability to generate separation, and some unselfishness lead to Jokic and Murray being shut down in the clutch this time around. That can’t happen if the Nuggets want to win this series, which just became inordinately more difficult.

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Nikola Jokic dominated the first three quarters

Sometimes, it gets lost in the shuffle given what happened in the fourth quarter, but Nikola Jokic was really good in this game. 32 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists really stand out in the boxscore. So do the seven turnovers, but let’s focus on the positive for a bit. Jokic was questionable on the injury report with a right wrist strain but put those concerns to bed with an excellent performance in the first quarter. He was scoring in the post, rebounding everything, and creating opportunities for his teammates.

He had a stretch of shots in the third quarter where Ivica Zubac just couldn’t guard him at the three-point line, and Jokic hit multiple threes to really put the pressure on the Clippers to guard him on the perimeter. Some of the ticky tack fouls the Clippers seemingly love to complain about occur because Jokic is beating a closeout on the three-point line. And somehow, some way, he dominated while attempting four free throws. Nothing can take away from that dude.

The Nuggets need a better clutch time performance from him, and he will be better going forward.

Jamal Murray fell victim to inconsistency again

It was a really tough stretch for Jamal Murray after making a basket with 4:07 left in the second quarter. Murray proceeded to miss his next ten shots, something I can’t imagine he’s ever done this season. There were some missed layups, blocked shots at the rim, and a couple of critical missed jumpers that would have put the Nuggets in great position down the stretch. All told, he finished with 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting to go with nine assists and two turnovers.

It’s good to see Murray impacting the game in other ways when his shot isn’t falling, but the truth is, he has raised the bar for his individual performance in these playoffs. The Nuggets have come to expect Murray to hit some of the shots he missed tonight, and doing so might have been the difference in the game. He clearly has capability for greatness within him, but there are times where he gets in his own way of that. The shots he attempted tonight were relatively difficult, and while he’s capable, he has to find a way to get to his spots more frequently. The Nuggets need a better performance from him if they want a chance in this series.

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Michael Porter Jr. did a lot of stuff tonight and it was mostly good

It cannot be said enough how much Michael Porter Jr. has to have learned in the bubble. He’s spending time in a campus environment around NBA stars, has played a ton of basketball, realized that talent alone isn’t going to get it done, and reinvested himself on the defensive end. That improvement has allowed Malone to go with Porter for extended stretches in these playoffs, and it led to some good Nuggets moments tonight.

Porter finished the game with 18 points, 10 rebounds, three steals, and a vicious poster dunk in 23 minutes off the bench. He was +6 in his 23 minutes, meaning the Nuggets as a team were -12 in the 25 minutes he didn’t play. It wouldn’t surprise me if Malone expanded upon that in Game 4 and utilized Porter with the starters more frequently. Denver’s starting group was a -12 in 24 minutes, and if the Clippers are going to win against that unit, Malone will have to make some adjustments.

It may be time for Malone to unleash him.

Free Throw disparity is difficult to overcome

The Nuggets shot 10 free throws tonight. The Clippers shot 26. On the series, the Nuggets have shot 54 free throws compared to the Clippers’ 72. It isn’t always so drastic, but the Clippers took advantage of additional trips to the free throw line tonight with a 12-point disparity in points at the stripe.

This isn’t a complaint. It’s merely an observation. The Clippers have benefitted from a pretty good whistle overall in this series, which is to be expected as the better team with the more visible stars in the bigger market. Unless the Nuggets can close the gap in free throw shooting, it’s extremely unlikely they can come back. Too many things have to happen, and the Clippers are too good otherwise.

But I will complain about this comment from Patrick Beverley.

Beverley having the audacity to criticize another player for “flailing” is really cute. He makes a living on this kind of behavior he’s describing, and one can point back to a moment earlier this year where he was fined $5,000 for—you guessed it—flopping.

Ludicrous statement from a player on a team that shot 16 more free throws than the other.