In what was arguably the most important game of the year the Denver Nuggets showed both the continual flashes of brilliance since the trade deadline and the red flags that are plaguing the second unit. Leading by 18 at one point, the Nuggets let the Clippers crawl back into the game but ultimately were able to hold on for a critical 101-94 win.

The Nuggets’ starters continue to look unguardable and provide an incredibly balanced attack, with all five in double figures and a healthy distribution of 28 assists. Jamal Murray led the way with 23 and had some daggers late in the game to seal the win and Aaron Gordon continues to gel with 14 points, 6 boards and 6 assists. Him cutting while opposing teams double or triple Jokic is deadly. More impressive was his defense on Kawhi, who had 24 but had to work for every single one of those points.

Denver never trailed tonight but that doesn’t mean it was an easy win. Leonard had a really strong third quarter with 11 points in the frame as the Clippers were able to chip into Denver’s lead. LA also really picked up the defensive intensity in the second half, showing multiple guys on both Jokic and Murray which really bogged down Denver’s offense. The Nuggets also had 9 turnovers in the second half compared to just 3 in the first.

The real issue came, once again, from the bench minutes. Murray + the reserves was pretty awful in the fourth quarter; the Clippers really focused on stopping Jamal and no one else could score. Meanwhile, the Nuggets hemorrhaged points on the other end as Paul George, Terrance Mann and Ivica Zubac were able to score at will. Facu’s minutes were pretty bad and seem to be the common denominator with all this. Denver’s bench was outscored considerably by 30 to 11. Not great.

Nikola Jokic had a visibly frustrating game. The Clippers did a great job at sending double and triple-teams to bother him, but what bothered him the most might have been the lack of foul calls. This was the fifth game this season that Jokic failed to get to the line. For a center who spends so much time around the rim and has the scratches to show for it, this is unacceptable. It’s unreal how the NBA’s leading MVP candidate is blatantly denied the star treatment. That isn’t to say he had a bad game by any means. Joker finished with 14 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists and was +13 on the night. Denver was still a better team by far when he was on the court, and his presence on the floor in the fourth calmed the storm. Is he the league’s MVP? He sure is.