Kiszla: We all know NBA doesn’t want Nuggets to beat Clippers and mess up L.A. story in Western Conference finals

We all know how the NBA wants this story to end. But the Nuggets don’t want to hear it.

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray have lost lost their fear of the big, bad Clippers. But beat L.A. in a seven-game playoff series? That’s a whole ‘nuther story, one America doesn’t want to see.

“There’s no moral victories. This is the playoffs. We should’ve won this game,” coach Michael Malone lamented Monday night, after the Nuggets led most of the way, but lost 113-107 in the end.

The Clippers weren’t better than Denver. But Kawhi “The Claw” Leonard and Paul George were tougher. When push came to shove in the fourth quarter, Murray couldn’t buy a basket and the Nuggets let Game 3 of the series slip away.

“They,” Jokic said, “are a little more experienced in those situations.”

Murray, the creator of 50-point masterpieces against Utah in Round 1, has discovered the hard way that playoff games aren’t always a work of art. At times, the main difference between winning and losing is nothing more than the stronger team imposing its will on the weak. The postseason dares even a star on the rise like Murray to burn out from the relentless grind.

With a menacing L.A. defense in his face, the Clippers crawled inside the head of Murray. He couldn’t shoot straight, missing 12 of 17 field-goal attempts to finish with14 points. When Murray doesn’t score big, the record shows Denver doesn’t win in the playoffs.

“It wasn’t really anything they did. Not at all. I just missed so many shots,” Murray said.

“I just got to be better. So put that game on me.”

The NBA bubble is a Disney production. We all know what commissioner Adam Silver and ESPN, sweating bullets when TV ratings for the playoffs got off to a lackadaisical start, want to see, don’t we?

The Western Conference finals are a pre-ordained L.A. story, with Kawhi taking on LeBron, right?

The Nuggets are considered little more than a nuisance. They’re a cute, little traffic cone, temporarily standing in the way of the inevitable Clippers-Lake Show.

“We don’t really care what anybody thinks of us, especially outside of Colorado,” Malone said prior to tip-off.

Itching to throw the us-against-the-world card, Malone added: “No one gives this team a chance to do a lot of things.”

Regardless of the sport, I’m not real big on the no-respect-for-the-lost-time-zone ploy, because all of us that live in Colorado know that Mountain time is the best time.

But for sports fans around the rest of the country, many of whom didn’t know Jamal Murray from Bill Murray a week ago, can I offer a pro tip?

Don’t sleep on the Nuggets. They’re easy to love.

The Clippers? Not so much.

If you admire basketball for its beauty, and relish no-look Jokic passes as sweet as Tupelo Honey, the Nuggets are your team.

If the sound of breaking glass is music to your ears, and you slow traffic to a crawl rubber-necking at a three-car crash, you dig the Clippers.

While coach Doc Rivers is an eloquent and powerful spokesman on social-justice issues, behind the closed doors of the L.A. locker room he’s an advocate of down-and-dirty bully ball.

In celebration of Labor Day, I took a slow and patient approach to my extensive honey-do list, because Jokic is my life coach. In a league of fist pumps and swagger, Big Honey admits to rushing absolutely nothing on the court, because he’s too slow to do it any other way.

The Joker not only tells jokes, he’s often his own punch line. The Clippers don’t roll that way.

With Los Angeles written in ride-or-die script across their chests, the Clips are hard fouls and smack talk. They’re also poor losers, which cost guard Patrick Beverley $25,000 when he described the referees’ work during Denver’s victory in Game 2 as poppycock (or something like that).

After Game 3, Beverley accused Jokic of flailing, in a lame attempt to play up that tired European hoops stereotype of flopping.

“I’m just showing it is a foul,” said Jokic, duly noting the Clippers took 26 free throws, compared to 10 attempts at the charity stripe by Denver.

The Nuggets are eager to thrill. Witness how Michael Porter Jr. posterized Montrezl Harrell with a windmill dunk in the third quarter, which ended with Denver ahead by four points

This performance was first-team all-NBA Joker. He scored 32 points to go with 12 rebounds and eight assists.

But in the playoffs, beautiful basketball isn’t enough. The Clippers won this game on mean, finishing the fourth quarter with a 23-10 flurry built on cut-no-slack defense.

“These are the tough (losses) to go back to the hotel with,” Murray admitted.

With fewer than two minutes remaining in the final period, and the Nuggets trailing by six points, Murray went airborne for a dunk. But Leonard met him at the rim, and rejected the slam, with the Claw blocking the shot with nothing more than his middle finger.

The symbolism was unmistakable, and the message was clear:

Don’t mess with the Claw, unless you’re strong enough to deal with rejection.

To earn more than moral victories, the Nuggets are going to have to be tougher.