Denver Nuggets 110, Los Angeles Clippers 104: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Nuggets put the NBA on notice with an impressive 110-104 win over the Clippers in Los Angeles on national television.

Denver has been hit hard by injuries this entire campaign and is currently without Jamal Murray, Monte Morris, and Will Barton III. Michael Malone’s team, however, has raised its efficiency on offense and intensity on defense and is now sitting on a five-game win streak.

Nikola Jokić has been the clear frontrunner for MVP this season and he saves some of his best performances for the biggest games, as seen in his two turns in the NBA playoffs. He was brilliant again Saturday night, dropping 30 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists on 52.9 shooting.

Rajon Rondo sparked the Clippers, coming off the bench with 18 points and five assists on 8 of 12 shooting.

The Nuggets will be seeking a LA sweep as they face the Lakers 48 hours in the same ball court (ESPN, 8 p.m. MT).

Here are the takeaways:

Another MVP showcase

With eight games left in the Nuggets’ season, Jokić’s MVP credentials should be painfully obvious. He put on another show in Los Angeles Saturday.

As the Clippers began to rally in the third quarter, Jokić asserted his will and took over the contest. The Serbian wouldn’t be denied as he proceeded to drop bucket after bucket against the Clippers’ defense, putting up 18 points on 6 of 9 shooting. He also grabbed five boards in that span. There are players in the league who would love that production in a game, let alone a half. It was a 12-minute masterclass by the best big man in the game.

For years, Jokić has separated himself from the best centers in the league due to his incredible passing. In arguably the biggest play of the night, that skill became crucial once again. With the Clippers trailing by just six with 1:08, the center would find a wide-open Facundo Campazzo for the game-icing three to push the score to 107-98.

Defense keys in LA’s star duo

The Clippers superstar tandem of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George was held relatively quiet on the night, combining for just 36 points.

The defense on George was especially impactful. The seven-time All-Star shot just 5 of 21 in the entire contest for 20 points. The Nuggets coaching staff kept George at bay by using several different matchups, ranging from Campazzo to Shaq Harrison to PJ Dozier. Dozier was at the forefront of that scheme, using his strength, length, and speed to deny George from getting into his comfort zone. Dozier continues to also chip in offensively as he starts in place of the injured Barton III in the lineup. The fourth-year guard had 16 points on 46.7 percent shooting.

Leonard shot 58.3 percent but also struggled to make an impact offensively. The two-time NBA Finals MVP finished the night with just 16 points, almost 10 points off his season average of 25.7. Aaron Gordon finished the night with seven points, but he was instrumental in slowing the Clippers' star.

MPJ shines

Jamal Murray’s injury has seen Michael Porter Jr. rise to the No. 2 option on offense, which means defenses are starting to hone in on him more. Despite facing Leonard, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and Marcus Morris Sr., one of the better frontcourt defenders in the league, Porter Jr. more than held his own.

Porter Jr. poured in 15 of his 25 points in the final 24 minutes to help the Nuggets secure a vital win with the postseason quickly approaching. The second-year forward hit two critical threes in the fourth quarter, which helped in securing the result. Denver’s win now secures tiebreaker with Los Angeles, as it won the season series. It could be vital for postseason positioning and Porter Jr.’s continued upward development has been significant in the team’s recent five-game win streak.

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