Welp, there it is—my streak of bounce back wins continues, as the Clippers came from behind in game 3 to beat the Nuggets! In a game that had 12 lead changes, way too many Michael Porter Jr. putbacks, and even a Kawhi Leonard middle finger block for all the haters, the Clippers pulled out a gritty 113-107 win against the Denver Nuggets to secure a 2-1 series lead.
For a team that needed to come out strong after a loss, the Clippers absolutely did that… only the Nuggets had the same plan. Both teams came out on fire offensively shooting ~70% for the first 6 minutes of the game. Paul George led the way for the Clippers (which was a recurring theme for the game), and to the surprise of absolutely nobody, Jokic looked phenomenal for the Nuggets (again, another recurring theme for the game). As pretty much everyone has mentioned at this point, Jokic is just a monster and a difficult person to stop. He baited Zubac into 2 (rather soft) fouls, which led to an early call for JaMychal Green. Green has generally been great for the team, but again, trying to stop someone who can score and assist from everywhere on the court is a tough task. Green picked up 2 quick fouls as well which forced Doc to bring out Trez, who we will talk about soon.
The first quarter was quite the back and forth between two strong offensive teams, with the Clippers gaining the slight edge with a 1 point lead going into the 2nd quarter. When asked about the game plan, Doc conceded that it was really just a firefight and that “neither team was really listening to their coaches.”
The 2nd quarter started out with some questionable effort to say the least. The Clippers bench was simply getting outplayed, out hustled, and outscored. I have had a lot of strong criticisms on Montrezl Harrell, and unfortunately, he did nothing to change my opinion here. I want to call out a very specific play that occurred. Murray gets himself free when Plumlee gives a solid screen against Lou, Trez drops instead of contesting, and he gives Murray a wide open mid range jumper. Murray proceeds to miss the jumper, but Trez, who is the Clippers center and in the position to rebound (given that he didn’t contest the shot) watches as Murray attempts to put back his own miss, with MPJ then following it up with one of his 8 points off of put backs. The reason I pick out this play is because it leads to a very simple question I find myself asking: what is Trez doing well? We know he isn’t good defensively. We know he can’t score outside the key. We know he can’t make free throws at an efficient rate. If he’s not bringing any energy, then it is really difficult to justify his minutes. At this point, it’s not Trez getting back into game shape or a lack of looks (the Clippers constantly feed him in the post), he’s just not really versatile enough in the playoffs.
Anyways, the quarter continued to be ugly for the most part. The Clippers struggled with effort and attentiveness, leading to the Nuggets getting easy points off of 2nd chance opportunities and defenders missing rotations. Luckily for the Clippers (and the eyes of their fans), the Clippers picked it up and finished the quarter strong. A string of defensive stops, big rebounds, and big buckets from Paul George propelled them to a 12-2 run to cut down the Nuggets’ lead to only 2. The Clippers were truly carried by Paul George and Kawhi, who combined for 31 points at the half.
The third quarter appeared to be better as the Clippers started out strong, but the same issues that plagued them in the 2nd quarter continued in the 3rd. The Clippers were missing covers, falling asleep on defense, and leaving the Nuggets far too open from 3. Jokic had a string of 3 quick 3 pointers and the Nuggets raised their lead to double digits again. Before people crucify Zubac’s defense he, we should instead acknowledge that it’s a problem with the strategy rather than the player. Zubac is dropping on screens and nobody is helping on Jokic when he pops. It’s a losing strategy that luckily changed in the 4th, where the Clippers had much more inspired play.
When we talk about inspired play, I think many of us could guess exactly who brought it: Patrick Beverly. He started the quarter with 2 big steals which led to a 4 quick points. Unfortunately, the Clippers the started to slump a bit on offense and Denver regained control with a 7 point lead. Doc called a timeout, and the Clippers simply changed to another gear. Outside of Zubac picking up a silly 6th foul, the Clippers looked incredible to close the game. Defensively, they were suffocating and extremely active. George and Leonard’s defensive prowess really started to show as they were relentlessly hounding Jamal Murray, who couldn’t come up with his late game heroics that killed the Jazz. Leonard also came up with big boards to ensure that second chance points couldn’t undercut their defensive efforts. Offensively, they began to attack the basket, which resulted in free throws and easy Kawhi buckets. Ultimately, the Clippers sealed the game off the backs of their superstars on both ends, and the Nuggets simply couldn’t find any answers.
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- Denvers non star players are good, but can be stopped: Porter Jr, Milsap, Grant, and Harris combined for 50 points. Harris getting hot from 3 can be a real problem, and while he did all of his damage in the 1st quarter, it’s important that the Clippers don’t leave him wide open. Michael Porter Jr. can heat up, but he also has a terrible shot selection. He did most of his damage strictly by outworking the Clippers on the board. The Clippers need to make a more conscious effort when the Nuggets put up a shot, because they gave up 8 offensive rebounds (4 of them coming from MPJ alone). More importantly, Porter Jr. is awful on defense. He can be played off the court, but the Clippers need to hunt that matchup much more than they have.
- Jokic is a real problem: The Serbian Superstar is every bit as talented and scary as Clipper fans thought when starting this series. He has been shooting phenomenally from down town, but more importantly, he just always makes the right read and decision. He makes incredible passes, including full court lobs that are right on the money, as well as tricky hooks that are absolutely unguardable. That being said, the Clippers need to be better about how they approach him. As mentioned, they can’t expect Zubac to drop on the screen and close out on him. Zubac also has to accept the fact that Jokic gets superstar calls. His 6th foul was a soft whistle, but given how they were give him that call all game, he has to be smarter.
- Paul George looking like Paul George: Simply put, his phenomenal shooting is the reason the Clippers won. Paul George finished with 32 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals on 12-18 shooting (5-7 from 3). He looked confident out there with his stroke, and he was attacking the basket extremely well. While Kawhi was also great tonight, having Paul George on fire opened up the floor and gave the Clippers more options to close out the game.
- JaMychal Green: Quick note—he subbed out in the 4th looking like he was in a bit of pain. Although it was reported that he was available for return, when Zubac fouled out, Trez was the one who got the call. No way to know if that was based off of his injury or Doc’s faith in Trez, but it will be worth keeping an eye out.
- Podcast: Check out The Lob, The Jam, The Podcast to hear Dr. Shap and Lucas Hann break down the Clippers’ game 3 win. You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere else podcasts are available.
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