Missed shots turned into a missed opportunity for the Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets, in a 113-107 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, went cold after Jerami Grant’s 3-pointer gave Denver a 97-90 lead with 8:29 left in the fourth quarter.
“We had some really wide-open looks that just wouldn’t go down,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
Nikola Jokic, who finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists after being questionable to play earlier in the day, was an outlier, making 13 of his 24 shots. Jokic started the game like his typical self, hitting awkward hook shots, chucking one-handed outlet passes the length of the court and snagging rebounds in a 10-point, seven-rebound and five-assist first quarter.
Jamal Murray, who became Denver’s franchise leader in 3-pointers made in the playoffs as of Monday, needed 17 shots to score 14 points, a night called “uncharacteristic,” by Malone.
“It wasn’t really anything that they did — not at all. I just missed so many shots,” Murray said. “I think I was five for something. I only (made) five field goals in a game off great looks. I just got to be better. I feel like if I just make a couple of those or get my percentages up a little bit, it can change the game, so I put that game on me. I got to give my team a little more help than that.”
Malone, who said the offensive struggles were related to a lack of transition opportunities created by strong defense, anticipates Murray will be better in Game 4, scheduled for Wednesday.
“Jamal had some wide-open looks, and I could tell he was starting to get down on himself,” Malone said. “I’m just trying to uplift him. We’re going nowhere without Jamal Murray and his offense, and I know he’ll be better come Game 4.”
Paul George led Los Angeles with 32 points, while Kawhi Leonard added 23 points and 14 rebounds.
Michael Porter Jr. added 18 points off the Nuggets bench, two of which came on a highlight-reel dunk over Clippers center Montrezl Harrell. Porter Jr. said afterward that the dunk would’ve been more fondly remembered after a win.
“They just weren’t going down tonight, especially in that fourth quarter,” Porter said. “Nothing to hang our head about because we were getting the shots we wanted.”
The Nuggets owned a double-digit lead in the second and third quarters, but the Clippers had a comeback ready both times. The Nuggets started the fourth quarter with a four-point lead and expanded it to seven early in the quarter before the Clippers’ decisive run.
“We should’ve won the game. That’s how I feel,” Malone said. “That key stretch in the second quarter allowed them to close the gap, and down the stretch, we just didn’t execute and finish enough of our possessions.”
The late cold stretch has the Nuggets trailing the Clippers 2-1 in the Western Conference semifinal series when they looked like they were on the edge of a second straight win.
“We definitely felt like we had this one, but give them credit,” Porter added. “They fought to the end, but nah, it definitely felt like a missed opportunity.”