Preview: Denver Nuggets look to respond in Game 4 vs. Clippers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Once again, the odds are stacked against the Denver Nuggets.

Following their 113-107 loss to the LA Clippers in Game 3, the Nuggets must once again put forth their best effort in an attempt to make another series comeback.

READ MORE: Game 3 Takeaways

Teams that have won Game 3 in a 1-1 series have gone on to win the series 73.5 percent of the time. However, as they showed in the first round against the Utah Jazz, one can never count out the Nuggets in a series.

In Game 3, Nikola Jokić put together another dominant offensive performance, but as LA double-teamed the Serbian big man in the fourth quarter, Denver’s offense couldn’t receive enough contributions from the supporting cast against LA’s stifling defense. Jamal Murray (5 of 17) and Jerami Grant (5 of 14) couldn’t hit shots in Monday’s game, which opened the door for LA to seize control of the series.

Kawhi Leonard (23 points, 14 rebounds and six assists) and Paul George (32 points on 12-of-18 shooting) were dominant on both ends of the floor in the victory. The series now shifts to what has essentially become a must-win game for Denver on Wednesday.

MORE: MPJ’s maturation paying off for Denver

Here are the key storylines to focus on in Game 4.

Who will step up on offense for Denver?

Jokić’s performance was exactly what the Nuggets could have hoped for from their star big man. With 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, the two-time All-Star carried the load for Denver’s offense as some of the perimeter players struggled to hit shots.

However, as expected, the Clippers began to double team Jokić in the post, which resulted in some quality looks for Denver’s support players, most notably Grant. Grant missed several crucial looks down the stretch of the fourth quarter, as his shot has seemed to abandon him at the wrong time. Grant has shot 4 of 17 from beyond the arc through the first three games of the series.

Gary Harris looked good early with a couple 3-pointers and nice assists but struggled to really create anything down the stretch. Murray was hounded by Patrick Beverley, George and Leonard for stretches of the game, which was a primary cause of his cold shooting night. Unfortunately, these are the matchups the 23-year-old guard will have to deal with in this series and if LA can neutralize Denver’s second-best player like they did Monday, the Nuggets’ offense will continue to struggle in the closing stretches of key games.

Perhaps Michael Porter Jr. will receive more playing time in Game 4 following an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double off the bench in Game 3. Porter Jr. was once again active on the offensive glass and provided some major highlight plays that gave Denver some energy.

Limiting LA’s transition play

In Game 3, both teams knocked down 11 3-pointers and the Nuggets outscored the Clippers 58-42 in the paint.

Wondering how LA was still able to come away with the important victory? Look directly at the Clippers’ success in transition.

For the game, LA scored 30 fast break points (compared to 12 for Denver) and was able to capitalize on Denver’s mistakes, scoring 17 points off of the Nuggets’ 12 turnovers. While the Clippers’ halfcourt offense was solid in Game 3, they were also able to add 5.7 points per 100 possessions in transition alone, per Cleaning the Glass.

For Denver to have a chance at coming back in this series, getting back on defense following a turnover or missed shot is crucial. It’s one thing for the brilliance of Leonard, George and Lou Williams to beat you in halfcourt sets, but allowing LA to rack up 30 fast break points is a recipe for disaster in a competitive series like this one.

Given Denver’s attention to detail following losses, look for Michael Malone to focus on transition defense as the Nuggets prepare for Wednesday’s Game 4.

Attack the basket to generate easy points

One other area the Clippers controlled was attacking the basket and generating trips to the free throw line.

Although both teams attempted 29 percent of their shots at the rim, LA converted 88.2 percent of those shots, ranking in the 99th percentile. Furthermore, the constant pressure put on the rim from the Clippers led to plenty of foul calls against the Nuggets, who were often late helping against the roll man.

LA attempted 26 free throws to only 10 for Denver, as the Nuggets’ 8.6 free-throw rate ranked in the first percentile. The Clippers converted 20 of those attempts, which gave them a 12-point advantage over the Nuggets from the charity stripe alone.

The Nuggets’ offense has never relied on getting to the free-throw line to be effective. However, with the game slowing down and the defensive intensity rising, attacking the basket to break down the defense to open up passes to open shooters or draw a foul would be helpful for Denver’s offensive flow. In fact, given the success the Nuggets had around the rim in Game 3 (they shot 77.8 percent, good for the 95th percentile), it would seem that LA lacks the consistent rim protection to deter drives to the basket.

The question then becomes, are Denver’s perimeter players able to get by LA’s elite defenders consistently enough to get downhill and attack the paint? Constantly screening and re-screening, while occasionally running sets with double screens may help those Nuggets guards get enough separation to start attacking the basket.

Wednesday’s Game 4 will tip at 7 p.m. MT and will air on ESPN (Radio: KKSE 92.5FM).

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