Kiszla: As Nuggets got Clawed in loss to Clippers, Nikola Jokic just stood there and let it happen

The Nuggets got Clawed, spindled and mutilated.

This NBA playoff series opened with a statement game. There was no mistaking what Kawhi “The Claw” Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers bluntly said Thursday, during a decisive 120-97 victory.

Denver is unworthy of being taken seriously as a championship contender.

And know what really hurts?

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic stood there and let it all be.

Now we all love Big Honey. So is it OK to offer a little tough love?

Hey, Joker: Be better.

Harsh? Nope. With the honor of being recognized as an all-star comes great responsibility at winning time.

As it is, nobody in America outside of the 303 thinks Denver belongs on the same floor with Leonard, who finished with 29 points. Or did you not hear Charles Barkley’s snark soundbite at halftime when dismissing the Nuggets?

“They got no chance in this series,” the Chuckster said.

And know what? The truth hurts. If Joker’s not better, Denver has a less-than-zero shot to win a game, much less this series.

Oh, Jokic did have his moments. The best one was his ode to the late, great Darryl Dawkins with a basket to tie the score at 31 to end the first quarter. The Nuggets center poured some special sauce on a Serbian-thunder-flyin’, Clipper-cryin’, rump-roastin’, bun-toastin, wham-bam-Joker-I-am dunk.

And then Jokic disappeared.

Jamal Murray grabbed America’s eyes with 50-point outbursts and tugged on heartstrings with his emotional appeals for social justice, while bringing Denver back from a 3-1 series hole against Utah in the playoffs’ opening-round.

Yes, fatigue makes cowards of us all. Forcing the Nuggets back on the court fewer than 48 hours after surviving all that Jazz was not fair. But is anything about 2020 fair?

Haven’t we seen this pathetic defense against L.A. somewhere before? Give me a sec. Oh, yeah. The welcome mat in the lane and the socially distanced D against the 3-ball almost got Denver run out of the bubble.

Game 1 was basically over after two quarters, when the Clippers shot 63 percent from the field. There was no mystery to L.A.’s offense. It was a lay-up line.

And the buck stopped with Jokic, whose idea of defense was to retrieve the ball from the bottom of the basket.

Skinny Joker is good. But his effort can’t be so slim at the defensive end as to be invisible.

From Patrick Beverley to Paul George, the Clippers can throw long and aggressive D at Murray from all angles. He’s not going to average 30-plus points in this series.

With Ivica Zubac in the post for L.A., the most advantageous match-up for the Nuggets to score against is to put the ball in the hands of Jokic. His 15 points prior to taking a seat on the bench to watch the conclusion of this blowout won’t cut it.

Where do the Nuggets go from here?

It’s the job of coach Michael Malone to give his team a reason to believe. He gave guard Gary Harris, whose defensive contributions were invaluable to surviving and advancing from Round 1 of the playoffs, a spot in the starting lineup since March.

Well, so much for that experiment.

Go back to Monte Morris in the starting five. Let Harris be a D-specialist off the bench. Morris can get the offense moving and allow Murray to concentrate on scoring.

And please don’t get me started on Paul Millsap.  He’s an old basketball player. I’m an old guy. Getting old ain’t easy. So I won’t pick on Millsap for playing old. In fact, I will pour him a glass of lemonade if he takes a seat on the bench.

In his place, start Michael Porter Jr. Or Mason Plumlee. Or Rocky the mascot.