Well, it looks like it’s time to bring out the post-loss specialist that Denver certainly won’t scheme for—me!  Both times that I have previously covered the Clippers for 213Hoops they were coming off of losses, but thanks to my inspirational previews, they were able to bounce back with some very big wins.  So, while the Clippers are coming off of a disappointing loss against the Nuggets, let’s see if this preview winning streak can be extended in Game 3.

Game Information

Where: The Most Magical Place on Earth (Orlando, Florida)

When: Monday, September 7th @ 6:00PM PT

How to Watch: TNT

Projected Starting Lineups

Nuggets (Home) : Gary Harris — Jamal Murray — Jerami Grant — Paul Milsap — Nikola Jokic 

Clippers (Away): Patrick Beverley — Paul George — Kawhi Leonard — Marcus Morris Sr. — Ivica Zubac

Injuries

Nuggets:  Will Barton Out (Knee), Vlatko Cancar Out (Foot), Nikola Jokic Questionable (Wrist)

Clippers:  None 

The Big Picture

Contrary to Kenneth’s advice in the Game 2 preview, the Clippers unfortunately did let up a bit (or a lot) in Game 2.  While there were many takeaways to be had, the game was really lost in the first quarter where the Nuggets scored 44 points on 72% shooting.  Falling behind by 19 points is obviously not an ideal situation, and while you can certainly point to areas that the Clippers needed to improve on, this was one of those instances where one team was in the zone and the other one wasn’t.  

The one bright spot that I saw throughout the otherwise painful-to-watch game was that the Nuggets are certainly prone to stretches of stagnation as well, which means that no lead is insurmountable for the Clippers.  In fact, the Clippers actually outscored Denver 76-66 after that 1st quarter massacre, but they were just never able to get over the hump due to unforced turnovers, missed free throws, and Denver (and by that I mean Gary Harris) making big shots to kill Clipper momentum.

That may all seem like a long winded way to say “the Clippers have to play better to start the game,” which is true, but it’s important to keep in mind that Denver also came out of the gates hot in Game 1 (only that time, the Clippers matched them blow for blow then proceeded to run away with it).  

We’ve seen stretches where the Clippers are absolutely locked in defensively, and it’s clear that when their defense is organized and sharp the offense flows much better.  I imagine the Clippers aren’t too happy with their Game 2 performance and will come out with more intensity.  Kawhi had 0 points in the 4th, PG struggled to get things going to close the game, and Bev was ejected on what was likely just an outburst of anger at how the game was generally going. 

Matchup wise, the key factor to keep an eye on is Jokic’s aggression on the offensive end.  He started Game 2 looking to score, and he absolutely punished Zubac in the post or from the perimeter due to some lethargic close outs.  This opened up the floor for others to operate and get to their spots.  I’d also keep an eye out on Kawhi, who struggled to find his shot throughout the game as indicated by some uncharacteristic misses near the rim as well as missed free throws.  Ultimately, I don’t think the gameplan has to change drastically, the Clippers simply have to make more shots and play with more intensity. 

The Antagonist

It’s important to acknowledge something that many Clipper fans didn’t after Game 1—the Nuggets are a good team.  They have solid defensive and offensive depth, and Jamal Murray and Jokic are truly fantastic players.  Defensively, Harris and Grant are menaces with active hands, high defensive IQ, and the latter has the strength to challenge Kawhi for positioning.  

While I firmly believe the Clippers are the more talented team, the success of either team is highly influenced by the role players.  Yesterday, all the Nuggets players stepped up.  Murray and Jokic were fantastic in the first half, and Monte Morris kept the momentum going by playing a lot like Trey Burke did in the first round.  Millsap and Harris proceeded to make big 3s in the 2nd half that kept them at a safe distance from the Clippers.  Grant and Harris defended Kawhi well, and while we can point to him missing shots that he usually makes, they played a big role in making him uncomfortable on the court.  The Nuggets role players were instrumental in their win last night, just like the Mavericks role players were instrumental in both of their wins against the Clippers.

We know the Clippers 2nd unit struggles defensively, but much of the success the Nuggets role players had was also against the Clippers starters. Like I said, the Nuggets are a good team, and the Clippers need to have a consistent team effort if they want to win Game 3 – and the series as a whole.

Notes

  • Montrezl Harrell:  Don’t get me wrong, Trez absolutely deserved the Six Man of the Year Award.  That recognition is, however, a regular season award, and it’s starting to look really hard to justify his ~19 minutes a game in these playoffs.  He’s simply not good enough defensively or dominant enough offensively to keep getting those minutes.  He needs to turn things around if Doc wants to use him as significantly as he has throughout the season.
  • Kawhi’s worst playoff game:  It’s already mentioned in the write up, but Game 2 was likely Kawhi’s worst game in the playoffs in a long time.  While Grant and Harris absolutely deserve credit for doing a good job, let’s not crown them Kawhi stoppers yet.  Kawhi has proven that he’s one of those players that you just can’t stop no matter what the defense throws at him.  Keep in mind that he averaged 35 PPG against Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler, as well as 30 PPG against current DPOY Giannis Antetokounmpo.  If Grant and Harris turn out to be more effective Kawhi stoppers than the handful of elite defensive players that have tried their best to stop Kawhi in the past, then Denver absolutely deserves to win this one.
  • Jokic: It’s hard to really put how mesmerizing Jokic is in words, but WOW.  He hits rainbow 3s with ease and he just throws up wild hooks and jumpers that seem to go in through the power of some magic.  He’ll be hard to stop, but it goes back to slowing down everyone else, because there is not a single defender in the league who can guard some of the shots that he manages to make.

Well, that’s about it for Clippers-Nuggets Game 3. Comment on the game and the other playoff contests below!

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