The Clippers take on the Nuggets in Game 5 up 3-1 with a chance to move to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Where: Disneyworld, Orlando, Florida
When: 3:30 PM PT
How to Watch: TNT
Projected Starting Lineups
Nuggets: Jamal Murray – Gary Harris – Jerami Grant – Paul Millsap – Nikola Jokic
Clippers: Patrick Beverley – Paul George – Kawhi Leonard – Marcus Morris – Ivica Zubac
Nuggets: Will Barton Out, Vlatko Cancar Out
The Big Picture
The Clippers are up 3-1, and have won each of their three games in a different way. Game one was an onslaught against a tired and ill-prepared Nuggets team which quickly became a blowout. Game three was a gusty, come-from-behind victory where the Clippers were outplayed most of the evening but found a way to pull out the win. And Game four was a grind-it-out defensive matchup that saw the Clippers shut down a talented Nuggets’ offense and win handily in a game where their offense struggled mightily. That has to give the Clippers’ confidence, because when you can win games in a variety of ways, you’re generally pretty damn good.
The Clippers have also won with a mostly mediocre series from star Paul George offensively (though he’s been far better than he was against the Mavs), and with poor shooting from supersub Lou Williams. The fact that most of their shooters (outside of Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson, who have sizzled) have been cold and they’ve still dealt with the Nuggets is yet more promising news. If those guys start hitting more outside shots in Game 5, the Clippers could start to look like the juggernaut they were projected to be – and finish off the Nuggets in the process.
The Nuggets have played hard. And they have, for the most part, executed well. However, they have had two huge issues. First, Game 2 aside, they’ve been completely unable to stop or even slow Kawhi Leonard, who was taken over at will against the relatively strong defense of Jerami Grant. The second, and perhaps bigger problem, is that nobody outside of Nikola Jokic has proven able to consistently create offense or score the basketball. Jamal Murray, their breakout star against the Jazz in the 1st round, has been completely locked down by Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Patrick Beverley. Michael Porter Jr. got hot in the first half of Game 4, but as soon as the Clippers started paying real attention to him, he quieted down. The rest of the Nuggets, like Grant, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap, have made open shots, but have not really been able to punish the Clippers in any real way on mismatches. Torrey Craig has been ignored on offense. Mason Plumlee has been invisible on that end as well. Overall, the Nuggets’ high-powered offense just hasn’t been able to get into gear.
What adjustments can the Nuggets make? Well, they could try starting Michael Porter Jr. over Paul Millsap to juice the offense a little bit. That would make the defense even worse, as Porter has been repeatedly targeted by the Clippers on that end, but Millsap hasn’t been very effective on that end either, and has done nothing on offense outside of Game 2. Malone could also bench Torrey Craig, who’s a good defender but has made little real impact, in favor of PJ Dozier, who is somewhat more capable offensively. On offense, rather than running through the locked down Murray, the Nuggets could try shifting their creation elsewhere. Still, those aren’t great answers.
Will Doc Keep a Short Rotation: Doc Rivers cut the Clippers rotation from 10 to 9 players in Game 4 by removing Reggie Jackson and giving more of his minutes to Patrick Beverley. As Beverley gets back into game shape he will demand more minutes, which will probably come from Landry Shamet (and Lou Williams to a lesser extent). Still, the effects of removing Jackson were evident in the Clippers’ defense, which looked much better without its weakest perimeter defender. Expect Jackson to be out of the rotation moving forward barring foul trouble, but it’s possible Doc gives him at least a few minutes in this one to keep him fresh and ready down the line.
Defending Jokic: The only player who the Clippers have had any real difficulty with this series has been Nuggets’ superstar Nikola Jokic. Even though the Clippers did a very good job on him in Game 4, he still put up 26 points and 6 assists. The key for the Clippers was forcing Jokic into 11-23 shooting and giving him just two free throw attempts. While he will probably shoot better than 2-7 from three, the Clippers are winning their battle against him if he’s taking that many shots from deep and operating outside the paint. Credit to Ivica Zubac for his defense on Jokic, and the rest of the Clippers for their smart double-teams, hedges, and rotations. Their defense on him was phenomenal, and if they can pull that off again in Game 5 they should be able to seal the series.
That’s about all I have for Clippers-Nuggets Game 5. Check out Sanjesh’s article on the struggles of Montrezl Harrell and Lucas’ piece on rooting interests. Comment on the game and Raptors-Celtics Game 7 below!