The Clippers take on the Nuggets in Game 7 in a winner-take-all contest to determine who will advance to meet the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
Where: Disneyworld, Orlando, Florida
When: 6:00 PM PT
How to Watch: ESPN, Watch ESPN
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 right where no team wants to be – facing elimination. Sure, they’re also a game away from advancing to the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, but being 48 minutes away from elimination in the second round is not ideal for a team that has championship aspirations. The Clippers roared out ahead in the first half in both Games 5 and 6, only to sputter in the second half, coughing away fairly large leads in tragic fashion. In Game 6 in particular, the Clips looked utterly shell-shocked down the stretch, with no idea for how to stop the Nuggets or any methods for generating easy offense. This was, of course, very dispiriting for Clippers’ fans, who have seen this movie before.
All that said, the Clippers did play well enough in both games to get those leads in the first place, and were able to win Games 1 and 4 fairly handily. They have the talent and players to beat the Nuggets. They just need to keep execution high, and make the right rotation moves and strategies to help on the margins. While the Nuggets are good, and fight hard, there’s no reason for the Clippers to lose to them in a seven-game series based on talent and overall ability. If they do fall, it will be the most disappointing end to a Clippers season of all time. Not great, Bob.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, are riding high. They are playing with house money at this point. Virtually nobody gave them a chance to even push this series to seven games, much less win, and they were written off entirely by most people after Game 4. They are having fun, playing loose, and just generally look like they’re having a great time. This is in stark contrast to the mostly glum Clippers, who look stoic even when they’re up and playing well.
The Nuggets have been powered by the superstar play of Nikola Jokic, who has been the best overall player in this series. The Clippers simply haven’t found a way to consistently slow down the big Serbian, and if he has another monster game tomorrow, even the Clippers’ best efforts might not be enough to win against the Nuggets (which is why you avoid a Game 7 at all). On defense, the Nuggets have clamped the Clippers up in the second half of both Games 5 and 6, and while there are certainly adjustments to make, the Nuggets’ ability to get stops consistently is surprising considering their porous defense for much of the season. Overall, they’re simply playing with more energy and fight than the Clippers, and it has shown.
Kawhi Takeover: While Kawhi Leonard has been spectacular at some points this series, he’s also been quieter than expected on a couple nights. Notably, in Game 2 he was extremely cold, and in Game 6, he was good but not great on a night when the Clippers needed him to dominate. Unsurprisingly, both of those games were losses for the Clippers. The good news is that after struggling with his outside shot in the first three games (2-11), Kawhi has caught fire (10-21) over the last three. If his three-pointer is falling and some of those midrange jumpers that missed in Game 6 drop as well, he could have a monster night in Game 7. The Nuggets have defended Kawhi well, but Game 7 is when superstars come to play, and the Clippers will need every bit of that tomorrow.
More from Morris: After a scorching hot Game 1, Marcus Morris has been fairly quiet in this series. He’s been efficient enough scoring the basketball, but the impact hasn’t really been there in terms of raw production, and his defense has not been noticeable. In the five games since Game 1, his averages are: 10.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in around 31 minutes per game. Morris hasn’t been as blatantly bad offensively as Landry Shamet and Montrezl Harrell, or as bad defensively as Lou Williams and Harrell, but he simply hasn’t made much an impression either way. That’s simply not good enough for the Clippers’ major trade deadline acquisition, and hopefully he shows up with more force in Game 7.
Pat Beverley Avoiding Foul Trouble: Vijay already discussed this in his article a few hours ago, but one of the biggest reasons for the Clippers’ collapse in Game 6 was the absence of Pat Beverley down the stretch due to his fouling out. Pat hasn’t even been that good in this series, but his defense and rebounding make him a much better option than the Clippers’ other guards, and they missed him greatly in the 4th quarter. He needs to be able to play at least 25 minutes in Game 7 (probably closer to 30), and that means keeping out of foul trouble.
Going Small with JaMychal Green: The Clippers briefly went small down the stretch in Game 6, with JaMychal Green at center, but the lineup didn’t do very well. Still, that sample size is not very representative, considering the Nuggets already had all the momentum and the Clippers were greatly struggling. If Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell struggle again, Doc could turn to Green at center for a greater amount of time in Game 7.
That’s about all I have for Game 7. This has a good argument for being the most important game in Clippers history. With all luck, the team shows up for it, and the Clippers can advance past the Nuggets in Game 7 to take on the Lakers in their first ever Western Conference Finals.