Clippers suffocate disjointed Nuggets, take commanding 3-1 series lead – The Denver Post

There was no hiding Nikola Jokic’s frustration.

Irritated over a whistle that never came, Jokic reached out to foul Clippers aggravator Patrick Beverley in a swift act of disgust. It was indicative of a dispiriting night that left the Nuggets on the brink of elimination.

The Clippers took Wednesday’s Game 4 with a decisive 96-85 win to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series. Without a different result in Friday’s Game 5, Denver’s promising season will be over.

Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard was devastating yet again, finishing with 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. His swarming defense, along with Paul George and Beverley, kept Nuggets star Jamal Murray at bay for the second straight game. Murray managed 18 points on 6-of-15 shooting, finishing with seven assists and four turnovers.

Murray struggled with the incessant attention, and couldn’t give Jokic the help he desperately needed. He finished with a team-high 26 points and 11 rebounds. Jokic looked like Denver’s only scoring option early before Michael Porter Jr. stretched the floor and gave the Nuggets another valve. Porter had 15 points and three 3-pointers – all coming over the first two quarters.

The Nuggets couldn’t overcome the lack of offensive support from Paul Millsap (three points), Jerami Grant (seven), Torrey Craig (one) and Monte Morris (five). Though the Nuggets held the Clippers to just 41% shooting, it was Los Angeles’ defense that was suffocating and minimized any chance at another huge comeback. The Nuggets connected on just 38% of their tries and looked out of sorts on numerous sequences.

The Nuggets blitzed the Clippers with two quick 3-pointers from Gary Harris and Jokic to open the third quarter. Within minutes they’d tied the game at 48. From there, the wheels fell off.

The Clippers reeled off a Leonard-led 21-5 run over a six-minute span that flipped the complexion of the game. Los Angeles sunk multiple 3-pointers as Denver’s offense lost its pace, and its urgency. Empty possessions rolled into turnovers, and the Nuggets entered the fourth down 73-63.

In what amounted to a small silver-lining in the aftermath of Game 3, multiple players felt the loss was on their shoulders and not due to anything the Clippers did.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone felt they should’ve won.

“We look at it this way,” Malone said. “We’re down 1-2, we felt in Game 3 we kind of gave that game away. We had our chances, we were up the majority of the game, we were right there. A few stops, a few open shots here and there, now we’re up 2-1. That wasn’t the case. Tonight will be a completely different game. Each game takes on its own personality.”

And while the Nuggets absolutely missed an opportunity in Game 3, Malone didn’t want to dismiss Los Angeles’ defense and the game-changing turnovers they forced.

“Their defense is real,” he added.

The Nuggets salvaged a miserable first quarter and managed to cut what was once an 18-point deficit to just eight going into halftime. Almost all of their offense ran through Jokic and Porter, who combined for 27 points in the first half.

Coming off the bench, Porter came out firing and knocked down three of Denver’s four first-half 3-pointers. Just like when he was named to the All-Bubble second team, his 3-point shooting proved almost indefensible.

The margin could’ve ballooned had the Nuggets not engaged their defense in the second quarter, but they began to gang rebound and help like they did during their Game 2 victory.

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