That the Denver Nuggets even led in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s Game 3 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers was a testament to how unstoppable Nikola Jokic.
But the Nuggets badly needed more from his supporting cast. That began with Jamal Murray, and he knew it.
“It wasn’t really anything they did,” said Murray, after missing 12 of his 17 shots in a 113-107 loss, including several open looks in the fourth quarter. “Not at all. I just missed so many shots. … I just gotta be better.”
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said Murray’s struggles were a reflection of the team’s defense as a whole. In Game 2, when the Nuggets held the Clippers to 41% shooting, it wasn’t a coincidence that Murray poured in a game-high 27. Unlike in Game 1, the Nuggets weren’t facing set defenses as often and Murray didn’t have to contend with waves of Los Angeles defenders.
On Monday, Los Angeles shot 55% from the field as both Kawhi Leonard (23 points) and Paul George (32) got loose. That made Murray’s job — to ease the pressure on Jokic and make the Clippers pay for their double-teams on him — significantly harder.
“We’re playing against a set defense,” Malone said. “Now they can throw body after body at Jamal Murray. They can put Patrick Beverley on him, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and just kind of wear him down.”
Even though the Nuggets were just 7-of-22 from the field in the fourth quarter and 1-of-9 from 3, Malone said he was pleased with the looks they got. The only thing he wanted to see was more unselfishness, believing that extra passes can undermine the Clippers’ elite perimeter defenders.
“I thought we could’ve had 40 assists last night (instead of 32),” Malone said. “I thought Jamal could’ve had 15 assists last night instead of the nine. Because they’re double-teaming so much, so when that happens, space the floor correctly, get off it quickly and let somebody else make a play. Trust the pass.”
After trailing 3-1 in the first round, the Nuggets are far from out of the series. They just need a bounce-back game from their second star.
“I don’t think Jamal Murray is going to go 5-of-17 from the field very often,” Malone said.