By Daniel Paiz
The series-clinching game proved to be too much for the road team as the Denver Nuggets fall short to Minnesota in Game 4, losing 114-108 in overtime. Nikola Jokic had a fantastic game, scoring 43 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing 6 assists. Anthony Edwards continued his historic playoff debut, dropping 34 points to go with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. The best of seven series returns to the Mile High City on Tuesday night, 4/25, where Denver will look to wrap things up at home.
This game was the epitome of runs, the challenge of who would blink first, and who would outhustle the other. Both teams went on scoring streaks and scoring droughts. Minnesota had one run in the second half where they outscored the Nuggets something like 21-2 over five minutes of play. Denver’s best chance at closing the series came on a 12-0 run that tied the game at 96 at the end of regulation. Nikola Jokic had an opportunity with two made free throws to give Denver a 1-point lead with 12.7 seconds to go; he instead hit one of two, and Denver made a defensive stop to force OT.
Game 4 recap
Team stats above almost paint a better picture than any highlight reels or recap videos. Important intangible categories like points in the paint, turnovers, and steals were identical. Minnesota won this game because they worked a bit harder when it came to rebounding, scoring, and hitting free throws. Pressure was the name of the game for this fourth contest: one team used it as a motivating factor, and while the other team faced it as an obstacle. Both teams had pressure to contend with, but Minnesota avoiding the sweep clearly outweighed Denver’s desire to wrap things up.
It was also another night of four out of five starters hitting double digits and figuring out the impact of the benches. The Wolves played one more bench player than Denver, and still edged the Nuggets out in points 22-12. The underperforming starter for each team? That would be Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Those two along with the bench guys highlight an always-important discussion to have during the playoffs: how starters and the bench play their roles.
The highlighted portions show the impact of the bench as well as the one starter with under 10 points tonight. A very important factor in Denver’s defeat in Game 4 are the points scored by Jeff Green and Christian Braun. This is not to say Denver cannot win without them having big offensive nights. However, the more Nuggets players who score, the harder it is defensively to contain Denver’s offense. This game also had fewer transitional opportunities for Denver, and periods of defense that seemed more like a suggestion to Denver rather than a requirement.
Keys to Game 5
Nikola Jokic doesn’t have to get a triple double, Jamal Murray doesn’t have to score 40 points, and Michael Porter Jr. doesn’t have to score 25 or more points. While it would be nice for those three to have solid offensive nights, it’s almost more important that nearly everyone that plays has meaningful shots and passes, and even better defense. Minnesota can have average games from Towns and Gobert if Edwards has another big night and Denver defensively doesn’t step up. The pressure is still on Denver more than the Wolves, because the eight seed has little to no expectations of doing much more. Those players clearly have some belief and fire in themselves after earning a win.
Denver has to extinguish that, as well as move the ball more and reduce the iso-hero ball witnessed at times in the second half. The home team has to move the ball around and tire out the defense, who will be without Kyle Anderson. Get Gobert and Towns into foul trouble, and Minnesota may be forced to play a smaller lineup, which will aid in winning the rebound battle. Assertive offensive possessions could lead to more free throw line attempts as well, which Denver hasn’t visited enough this series.
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