After a resounding victory in Game 2, the Denver Nuggets let a golden opportunity slip away in the fourth quarter of Game 3 against the Los Angeles Clippers and once again find themselves trailing in the best of seven series. Nikola Jokic continued to dominate, Michael Porter Jr showed up big but Jamal Murray and Jerami Grant were no shows. Meanwhile Paul George and Kawhi Leonard found their rhythm again and were every bit of the star duo they are billed to be.

Tonight the Nuggets face a near elimination scenario. It would be folly to think they could recover from a 3-1 deficit again in these playoffs particularly against such a quality opponent. No, if the Nuggets intend you advance to the Western Conference Finals then tonight is a must win. In order to get the victory they’ll need someone other than Nikola to step up. Murray promised a bounce back from his sub par game three performance, a Murray Flurry could be just what Denver needs.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Clippers (Series tied 1-1)

When: 7:00 PM MDT

Where: The Bubble. Orlando, FL.

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless its the romanticized 18th-century type. ESPN, League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Sneak into the bubble with an Adam Silver mask. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.

Rival Blog(s): 213 Hoops

Projected Matchups

Position Nuggets Pacers Advantage
PG Monte Morris Malcolm Brogdon Pacers
SG Jamal Murray Justin Holiday Nuggets
SF Will Barton Doug McDermott Even
PF Michael Porter Jr. Domantas Sabonis Pacers
C Nikola Jokic Myles turner Nuggets
Bench P.J. Dozier, Zeke Nnaji, Isaiah Hartenstein, Vlatko Cancar T.J. McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, Edmond Sumner, Aaron Holiday Pacers

Player Availibility: Will Barton – out (knee), Vlatko Cancar – out (foot)

Key matchup Jamal Murray vs Kawhi Leonard

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Its fairly established that Ivica Zubac is not going to stop Nikola Jokic, but likewise the Nuggets aren’t going to stop Kawhi and George. In Game 2 Denver played superb defense on the pair, but also benefitted greatly from some cold shooting nights. What Game 3 showed is the Nuggets can still be competitive even if the Clippers stars are shooting well, but they need someone other than Nikola to step up and help carry the load. Murray has got to be that guy. Now, it’s not fair to expect Jamal to replicate what he did in the first round. Leonard and George are far superior defenders to anything that the Utah Jazz could throw at the Blue Arrow. What Denver needs, and should expect, out of Jamal is for him to fill the role of the second guy like Jokic did in round 1. Murray doesn’t have to score 50, he doesn’t need to go supernova in the final four minutes of the game, but he does need to put together a tidy 20+ point outing to at least take some of the pressure off Nikola.

Key thing to watch for: free throws

Despite Patrick Beverley’s inability to do basic math, the Nuggets have in fact got the raw end of the whistle on this one. The free throw disparity in Game 3 was very noticeable and many members of the Nuggets took time to point it out. Now, a lot of that is on the Nuggets. They have to attack the basket, not settle for jumpers, and be willing to take contact at the rim if they want to get to the free throw line. Tonight that has to be a point of emphasis. The Nuggets have greased the wheels for a better whistle in their press conferences and noted flopper Beverley gave them a big boost when he complained about, get this, flopping. The refs know who Beverley is and aren’t going to be fooled by his complaining in a victory where his team shot 16 more free throws than their opponent. Don’t be surprised tonight if they are extra attentive to the fouls being committed by L.A. that have otherwise gone uncalled. Denver needs to take advantage of that point.

Opening thought: no coming back from a loss

Yes, Denver became just the 12th team ever to erase a 3-1 deficit and yes, series deficits in the bubble can be argued to be less daunting than a typical playoff series, but the Nuggets aren’t coming back 3-1 on the Clippers. Kawhi is a two time Finals MVP, George is a grizzled playoff veteran who has seen the conference finals. Up and down the Clippers roster you will find strong willed, tough players with a bevy of playoff experience. This is not the Jazz, the Clippers will not leave the door cracked open to see if they can NuggLife their way to a series victory in Game 7. If the Nuggets have any hope of pulling off the upset they must keep pace with L.A. They must find a way to win the game tonight.