Good, bad & ugly: Nuggets late-game collapse leads to Clippers win

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) shoots against LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (right) during the second half of game three of the second round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena.
Sep 7, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) shoots against LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (right) during the second half of game three of the second round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets responded in a significant way after being annihilated in Game 1 by the Clippers to even up the series at 1-1.

Denver completely dominated the Clippers in Game 2 as they came out with defensive adjustments and a sense of urgency that was not seen in Game 1 to secure the win.

The Nuggets beat Los Angeles 110-101 on Friday evening and attempted to do those same things on Monday to take a series lead.

Denver fought in Game 3 and certainly had their chances, but a 4th quarter collapse led to a 113-107 loss for Denver to fall to 2-1 in the series.

Here is my good, bad and ugly from a hard-fought battle that the Nuggets came up short in.

Good – Nikola Jokic continues to dominate  

After an impressive 26 point and 18 rebound performance from the 2x All-Star in a Game 2 win, it was a bit shocking to see Nikola Jokic end up on the injury report with a right wrist sprain.

In Game 3, there were no signs of him being banged up as Jokic looked to be the best player on the court.

Jokic got himself going early on and did not look back.

The Serbian big man was so active early on, which forced Los Angeles to get physical with him, and that led to foul trouble for the Clippers big men and a huge scoring night for Jokic.

Jokic is extremely difficult to defend when he is dissecting the defense with the inside-out game and also getting others involved as well, and he did plenty of that in Game 3.

Denver’s best players shot was falling yet again, and that was added pressure on the Clippers defense in a fast-paced game.

Jokic finished with a stat-stuffing 32 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists on the night.

Denver’s center hit three straight 3-pointers in the third quarter to build on the Nuggets lead, and Denver made sure to go through their best player, which forced the Clippers to give the Nuggets different looks and adjust on the fly.

Jokic had plenty of highs, but he also turned the ball over for a game-high seven turnovers as well and was not being as aggressive to close the game as he was to begin it.

Denver’s issues were self-inflicted with a few late errors and runs that they gave up to close the Clippers out, but if the Nuggets continue to get dominant play from their best player and he remains on the attack throughout the night, then they will continue to have a chance.

Bad – Jerami Grant’s shooting slump continues

For two teams that seemed to have had plenty of open looks on Monday evening, it was a bit shocking to see Grant continue in his shooting slump.

In a Game 2 win, it was overlooked that Grant struggled mightily from the field, specifically from deep.

Grant played excellent defense in the game, and his production surely helped the Nuggets even up the series as he went a plus-15 in the game but had they not won the game, then his shooting night would have been magnified.

Grant played excelled help-side defense, and he was also one of the main standouts that helped limit Kawhi Leonard to a horrid 4-17 shooting night, his defense matters for the Nuggets.

While his defensive efforts were vital to the win, it is still difficult to overlook the fact that he struggled from the field.

Grant finished with five points in the game, and more than half came from the free-throw line.

The backup power forward was a whopping 1-9 from the field, and he also managed to go 0-5 from beyond the arc with some relatively open looks.

Denver appeared to get Grant going offensively in Game 3 with some early calls for him, and late in the game, he had open look after open look but could not get anything to fall.

Grant played a team-high 42 minutes in the game and brought his usual defensive intensity as he gave Leonard some tough looks and worked hard on that end of the floor. Again, his issues came with putting the ball in the basket.

Grant finished 5-14 from the field for 11 points and 1-6 from beyond the arc.

Jokic turned down a few open looks late to get the ball out to Grant; it is imperative that he hits a few to keep the defense honest.

Denver’s offense hit a wall in the 4th quarter and could not get much offense, and with Grant already having an off-shooting night from deep, it only played to the Clippers game-plan.

Denver has to get more from their defensive stopper on both ends of the court if they plan on keeping the pressure on the Clippers.

Once Grant’s shot starts to fall, it will add an additional weapon on the floor for the Nuggets and force the Clippers to make other adjustments, which will open up the floor for the Nuggets.

Ugly – A game of runs 

The Denver Nuggets were utterly embarrassed in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Clippers as they were beaten by 23 points with conversations nationally about an inevitable sweep.

The Clippers executed their game plan, specifically on the defensive end, as they looked to put a stop to Jamal Murray, who had been having a historically significant postseason.

Los Angeles came out as the more aggressive team and punched the Nuggets in the mouth and left Denver with questions on if they could even bounce-back in game 2, let alone win.

But, Denver stayed the course and attributed much of the negatives from Game 1 due to fatigue as the Nuggets exerted everything they had to overcome a 3-1 deficit in their classic battle with the Utah Jazz and expended plenty of energy in a stunning Game 7 finish.

The Nuggets turned the page after the blowout and bounced back and in a major way in Game 2.

Denver led in the game from start to finish. There was much more energy, a will to win, and fight as the Nuggets pulled off the 110-101 win over the Clippers.

If the Utah series taught the Nuggets anything, it is not to get too high after a win or low after a loss, and Denver took that lesson literally as they prepared for an all-important Game 3.

Denver had a chance to take a 2-1 series lead over Los Angeles but runs ended up being the difference.

With 4:58 to go in the second quarter, the Nuggets led the Clippers 53-43 but struggled to keep that momentum as Denver did not take care of the ball and that further allowed Los Angeles to get out and run.

The Clippers ended the first half with a 14-6 run and went into the half with only a two-point deficit, which ended up being the turning point in the game.

The second half was much more of the same for the Nuggets as they fought to hang around, but a couple of flurries in the third quarter and a late-game push by the Clippers ended up being too much for Denver to overcome.

Denver allowed a 19-6 run, which perfectly coincided with the Nuggets suddenly going on their biggest slump of the game.

The Nuggets did not score a field goal for a five-minute frame in the fourth, and Los Angeles chipped away at the lead.

The Clippers turned up their defensive intensity and closed again on a 23-10 run to win the game.

Denver has to find ways to execute late in games while also remaining in attack-mode.

The Clippers are a team that pounces on mistakes and forces the issue, so the Nuggets have to get better with playing with a lead and avoiding offensive droughts.

Game 3  was one that Denver feels as if they should have had.

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