|Time||3:30 p.m. ET|
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History hasn’t been kind to teams that go down 3-0 in a best of seven playoff series. It’s a death sentence, one that no team in NBA history has recovered from, and a position the Denver Nuggets are in after their 118-113 loss in Game 3 on Thursday night.
Despite being overmatched for much of this series, the Nuggets have shown no signs of giving up. After suffering blowout losses in the first two games of this series, the Nuggets were competitive in Game 3 and held a one-point lead with three minutes to go before succumbing to the Warriors.
Will the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets win and stave off elimination, or will Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors advance to the Second Round of the NBA Playoffs?
Let’s analyze both sides and find out!
Will the Warriors’ Death Lineup Seal the Nuggets’ Fate
After winning Games 1 and 2 by a combined 36 points, it appeared the Warriors would sleepwalk through the rest of this series. Game 3 was a reminder that this team is mortal, and while they ultimately pulled off the 118-113 victory, this wasn’t the same team we saw at the Chase Center.
Holding a 69-59 lead at the half, the Warriors allowed a 15-5 run to start the third quarter, finding themselves in a dogfight with a desperate Nuggets team. Still, you can look at that stretch as more of an aberration than anything to be concerned about as the Warriors proved to be battle tested, with several different players making all the clutch plays when they needed them, including Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole.
The Warriors still have a major advantage in guard play, and that prevailed in Game 3. Klay Thomson scored 26 points on 10-of-18 (55.6%) shooting and 6-of-13 (46.2%) from behind the arc, and Poole put up 27 points on 9-of-13 (69.2%) shooting on 3-of-5 (60%) from 3-point range. If that’s not scary enough, the Warriors still have Steph Curry on a minutes restriction coming off the bench, who added 27 points.
It was hard enough trying to slow down the splash brothers with just Curry and Thompson, but when you add Poole to the mix, it’s almost unfair. It’s not a surprise to see that this team shot 18-of-40 (45%) from behind the arc in Game 3.
The Warriors’ new Death Lineup of Poole, Thompson, Curry, Wiggins and Draymond Green has outscored the Nuggets by 6.8 points per 100 possessions with an Offensive Rating of 142.6 and a Defensive Rating of 105.8 in 23 minutes during the postseason. However, in 12 minutes in Game 3, they posted a Net Rating of -35.4 behind an Offensive Rating of 96.8 and a Defensive Rating of 132.1. Nonetheless, I think this is a product of poor shooting variance.
The Warriors defense did slip a bit in Game 3, allowing 1.17 points per possession after holding the Nuggets to 1.12 and 1.13 points per possession in the first two games. Much of that was to be expected as role players tend to shoot better at home, but the Warriors fouled too often in Game 3 by allowing a 27.5% Free Throw Rate, the highest in the series.
The Warriors have still done a solid job at defending Jokic, specifically by limiting his ability to generate scoring opportunities for teammates, and this should continue in Game 4.
Can Jokic Will the Nuggets to a Win?
Despite the Nuggets being overmatched in the absence of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr, Jokic has done everything he can to keep this team competitive.
After two subpar games on the road, Jokic returned to MVP form with his best game of the series, scoring 37 points on 14-of-22 (63.6%) shooting along with 18 rebounds and five assists. He also got some help from his supporting cast with all starters except Jeff Green scoring double digits. The Nuggets had their most efficient scoring output of the series as they finally got a good shooting night from behind the arc, going 11-of-26 (42.3%) on 3s.
Despite a solid offensive output, it almost doesn’t matter considering that they don’t have the personnel to slow down this Warriors team on defense. They’re allowing a Defensive Rating of 122.6 throughout this series, and the Warriors are making an average of 17 3s per game at 44.3%. Jokic is putting up a solid effort, but without Murray and Porter Jr, the Nuggets just don’t have the firepower to match up with the Warriors even if they force 16 turnovers as they did in Game 3.
Jokic had perhaps one of the greatest individual seasons in the history of the NBA. Leading this team to 48 wins in the West without Murray and Porter Jr. is something not too many other players could have done. Unfortunately, there are no moral victories in sports, and there definitely aren’t any in the NBA Playoffs.
No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, and while the Nuggets under Jokic have been resilient, coming back from numerous 3-1 leads in the postseason, that won’t be the case this year. There is no extra gear here.
The Nuggets pushed as hard they could in Game 3, got an MVP-caliber performance from Jokic, forced 16 turnovers, had a 29.7% Offensive Rebound Rate and shot 42.3% from downtown, yet they still lost by five. The Denver Nuggets are drawing dead, and after Sunday, they’ll be going on vacation. 1-2-3 Cancun!
Don’t overthink this. Back the Warriors to complete the sweep.
Pick: Golden State Warriors -4.5 (-110)