Nikola Jokic, Nuggets Outlast Kawhi Leonard, Clippers for 4th Straight Win

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2021

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) shoots against Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Ashley Landis/Associated Press

The Denver Nuggets continue to roll.

Denver defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 101-94 in Thursday's potential Western Conference playoff preview at Staples Center. Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray led the way in a balanced effort for the Nuggets, who improved to 30-18 overall with their fourth consecutive win.

Solid showings from Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Terance Mann were not enough for the Clippers, who fell to 32-18 on the season with their second straight loss.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

JAMAL MURRAY AGAIN https://t.co/1keywJGMLa


Notable Player Stats

  • Jamal Murray, G, DEN: 23 PTS, 8 REB
  • Michael Porter Jr., F, DEN: 20 PTS, 4 REB, 2 BLK
  • Nikola Jokic, C, DEN: 14 PTS, 7 REB, 7 AST
  • Kawhi Leonard, F, LAC: 24 PTS, 12 REB, 4 AST, 2 STL
  • Paul George, F, LAC: 17 PTS, 8 REB, 5 AST
  • Terance Mann, G, LAC: 18 PTS, 6 REB, 8-of-10 FG


Balanced Effort Propels Nuggets to Win

Nikola Jokic is on the shortlist of MVP candidates, but the Nuggets are going to need more than just his individual brilliance to win a championship.

Much more than the big man's star power was on display Thursday as the visitors jumped out to a commanding 13-point halftime lead. In fact, Jokic was the only Denver starter who was not in double figures by intermission, and the team as a whole had 17 assists on 23 made field goals.

It was more of the same in the third quarter, as even Facundo Campazzo kept the ball moving during his time off the bench.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Aaron Gordon hit the reverse slam 😤 Nuggets up 62-49 at half on @NBAonTNT https://t.co/BPXR0zDJur

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

If you cut, you know Nikola will find ya https://t.co/3MftAmVlqu

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

The ball just keeps movin' https://t.co/6QKzseMXxs

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

AG said N🚫PE https://t.co/GGLBIbj9zY

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

👀 https://t.co/q2ecD7NW21

He was one of four Nuggets to finish with at least four dimes, which prevented the Clippers from locking in on anyone in particular on defense. Jokic also helped maintain a double-digit lead into the fourth by facilitating from the elbow and battling for boards even though he struggled from the field.

With Porter and Will Barton aggressively seeking out their shots on the wing, Murray picking his spots to create his own looks, Aaron Gordon remaining in attack mode even while providing solid defense on Leonard and Jokic doing that, the game looked largely over heading into the final quarter.

However, the Clippers cut an 11-point deficit heading into the fourth to as little as three before the stars took over.

Jokic drained a monster three and assisted a Porter dunk, while Murray's step-back triple with just more than two minutes left all but iced the win. Everyone getting in on the act before that pair takes over is quite the formula for long-term success in Denver.


Mann Impresses Even in Defeat

The Clippers are still without Patrick Beverley and Rajon Rondo, but they at least got George back after he missed the last two games.

His return gave Los Angeles far more star power in a game it figured to need it, but the home team appeared to sleep walk through much of Thursday's contest while falling behind by double digits within the first seven minutes.

That put the Clippers into comeback mode throughout the contest and placed even more pressure on the Leonard and George combination.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

PG brings the Clippers back 🍿 Head to @NBAonTNT now for the finish https://t.co/ohKr6p4BaG

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Kawhi's fadeaway is too smooth 💰 https://t.co/gAvfrxyT62

LA Clippers @LAClippers

Get big, @terance_mann 💪 📺 @BallySportWest | #ClipperNation https://t.co/zVq21NmKya

LA Clippers @LAClippers

.@terance_mann organizing in mid-flight. https://t.co/Z4kZ2qFtHk

LA Clippers @LAClippers

.@kawhileonard fading and firing. 📺 @BallySportWest | #ClipperNation https://t.co/SCZFWmN9GC

Leonard picked up the slack in the third quarter by spearheading a run just to get his team within striking distance. While Gordon did a respectable job staying in front of him at times, Leonard's overall talent won out with a pull-up jumper, three-pointer and multiple assists when defenders collapsed on him.

George got in on the action in the early portion of the third quarter, but it was Mann who took advantage of the resultant space and pulled L.A. within three.

Even though the comeback effort ultimately fell short, that the second-year Mann was so effective on a national stage is a welcome sign for the Clippers. They are going to need someone else outside of George and Leonard to provide offense against quality opponents like Denver, and the Florida State product hit from the outside, attacked off the bounce, competed on the glass and even set up his teammates.

That type of impact can make Mann an X-factor in the postseason even if it wasn't enough against Denver.


What's Next?

Both teams are home Sunday when the Nuggets face the Orlando Magic and the Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers.