Los Angeles is now one game away from their first Western Conference Finals appearance.
The Los Angeles Clippers never trailed in their Game 4 victory over the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night, and are now 48 minutes from their first appearance in the Western Conference Finals.
The Clippers came out with uncharacteristic energy in the first half of their much anticipated Game 4 match-up with the Nuggets. The Clips defense allowed the Nuggets just 12 points in the first quarter – the second-fewest amount of points allowed in a quarter in a postseason game in franchise history.
Behind their defensive effort, Los Angeles jumped out to a 14-point lead after one quarter (26-12), with Kawhi Leonard leading the way with 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. Ivica Zubac added 6 points and 3 rebounds. Zubac had a noticeably different energy about him this outing, and matched Nikola Jokić’s minutes effectively, avoiding the fouls that plagued him in game 3. He had just one foul in the half.
Denver’s Jamal Murray continued the struggles he exhibited in Game 3. He appeared disengaged on offense, and was obviously bothered by the Clippers’ s half-court defense and the bevy of perimeter defenders being thrown at him. Jokić also struggled. He was considerably more muted than usual, and had difficulty with the Clippers’ double-teams, faster close-outs and better handling of the pick and roll. Murray and Jokić combined for only 16 points in the half.
Michael Porter Jr. was actually the best player (offensively) on the court for Denver in the half, contributing 15 points in 16 minutes. If Porter Jr. stays healthy and improves defensively, he is going to be a star in this league. He is very talented and has a beautiful stroke.
At the half, the Clippers led the Nuggets by 8, with Leonard leading all scorers with 17 points.
The second half started off bumpy, but was successfully weathered by Los Angeles. Denver came out with heightened aggression, and it took a few minutes for the Clippers to adjust. Within those few minutes however, Paul George – who only played 14 minutes in the first half -quickly picked up a fourth foul, and the Clippers as a team raked up six fouls, placing Denver in the bonus early.
Denver’s early third quarter push was successful in cutting the Clippers’ lead to two. But Kawhi was not having it. The Klaw put the team on his back, sinking a 3-pointer then, on a subsequent possession, snatching a steal and dishing it to Lou Williams for a two-hand dunk.
That was enough to stop the Nuggets’ mini-run.
The Clippers proceeded to turn up the heat, with excellent back to back defensive sequences. The lead was pushed back out to 15. Denver was successful in trimming the lead to 10 as the game entered the final frame, but it never felt like they had a chance in this one. The Nuggets two stars were befuddled and Porter Jr.’s first half success did not extend into the final two frames (the Clippers held him to 0 points in the second half).
The fourth quarter had some flow issues with a number of foul calls and official reviews that stopped play (and yes, in case you are wondering, Patrick Beverley was in the middle of some of these stoppages). The Nuggets seemed more irritated and bothered by the stop-and-go than the Clippers, who continued with their clamp down defense and quick paced offense. By mid-quarter, the Clippers had extended the lead to 19 and never looked back.
Final Score: 96-84
Kawhi Leonard led all scorers with 30 points on 10 for 22 shooting. He was a perfect 8 for 8 from the line, and also had 11 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks. Five other Clippers scored double figures: Montrezl Harrell (15), Lou Williams (12), Marcus Morris Sr. and Ivica Zubac (11 each) and Paul George (10 – including some key buckets down the stretch).
Jokić was best for the Nuggets, finishing the game with 26 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 block.
Did you really think Kawhi Would Have Two Off Games in a Row?
No? Neither did I. Kawhi was simply spectacular in this outing, completely unshaken by his mediocre performance in Game 3. He was aggressive getting to his sweet spots, effective at getting to the rim, found open corner shooters and was engaged on defense.
With his 30-point showing, Kawhi logged his sixth game this postseason with at least 30 points scored which is the second-most such games in a single postseason in franchise history. Leonard also tied his postseason career-high with 9 assists and became the first player in franchise history to have at least 30 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists in a postseason game.
Game 4 was a defensive masterpiece.
This was definitely a defensive-focused game. The Clippers made adjustments and played with an intensity for nearly all 48 minutes, with little let up. Los Angeles held the Nuggets to 39.7 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 from long. Everyone was locked in, even players not known for being great defenders. A total team effort.
Points in the Paint – The Return of Montrezl
In Game 3, the Clippers controlled the transition game, and had an advantage on the foul line. In Game 4, they dominated the paint, outscoring the Nuggets 38-22. Credit the improved energy of Zubac and – dare I say it – a “comeback game” from Montrezl Harrell? Zu was solid, but Harrell brought the infectious energy for which he is notorious. Harrell was very active in the paint, and had no issue going chest to chest with the larger Jokić. He was a problem for Denver.
Game 5 is Friday, September 11, 2020 at 3:30 p.m.