The Clippers blew out Denver in game 1, and got a head start in the second-round series between the two. But after tying LA 31-31 in the first quarter, the fatigued Nuggets faded fast, scoring just 36 points in the second and third quarter combined. Did the Clippers play well? Sure. Can we look at some sequences and credit their defense? Of course. But it’s hard to look past Denver having just one day off following a game 7 win at the buzzer Tuesday evening. Jamal Murray, who was the Nuggets’ savior in the first round, played nearly 170 games over the team’s final four games in the first round.

I would argue that we can actually glean very little from this game due to the fatigue factor. If you picked Clippers in 4 before this series began, then sure, you can be getting the brooms ready after game 1.

But if you picked Clippers in 5, or, like me, 6, why would this change anything for you? I picked the Clippers in 6 in part because I expected them to win game 1 because of Denver’s fatigue! And this wasn’t some magic Lucas prediction that I’m bragging about–pretty much everyone I spoke to in LA and Denver media was on the same page that game 1 was going to be extremely difficult for the Nuggets from an energy perspective.

So yeah, the Nuggets came out with a hot shooting burst, riding their momentum. Then the starters went to the bench, the Clippers built a lead, and all of a sudden Nikola Jokic checked back in to a game where he was down 12 and realized how exhausted he was.

When the thing that was supposed to happen happens exactly like it was supposed to, it’s hard to say we learned a ton watching the script play out. I said before the series–and maintain after game 1–that game 2 will be the most important game in this series. The Nuggets had about 46 hours from when Mike Conley’s would-have-been game-winner rimmed out to the jump ball Thursday night against the Clippers. Now, they will have an extra day of rest on Friday and 48 more hours to decide how they want to attack the monster that is the Clippers team in game 2.

Denver just came back from down 3-1 against the Utah Jazz, but it’s a lot easier to have the confidence to play from behind against a team that you know you’re better than. Denver was favored in the series as the higher seed–even as confidence in them waned due to early struggles, there was no undoing a season of the Nuggets being the clear third-best team in the conference. In the second round, the Nuggets won’t be able to fall back on being better than the Clippers. The series won’t be over if the Clippers win game 2… but I don’t like Denver’s chances of winning 4 out of 5 against LAC, and there’s a decent possibility that Jokic stops playing hard if the series feels unwinnable.

If LA wins game 2, then Clippers in 5 becomes a lot more likely than Clippers in 6. If the Nuggets throw their best punch, I believe a game between these two games could be a tight coin flip down the stretch. That punch is coming in game 2, but if the Nuggets are down 2-0, it’s a coin flip to see if they’ll even swing again in game 3, pretty drastically reducing their odds of extending the series.

But if the Nuggets are able to come away with game 2 and tie the series at 1-1, then the Clippers’ big game 1 will be erased. I won’t quite be at the point of worrying that they’ll lose the series, but I don’t think it’ll be a 5-game series–the Nuggets will keep fighting and steal at least one more.

We’ll learn a lot more Saturday than we did Thursday, but let’s run through some quick takeaways just as well:

Things we already knew:

  • Gary Harris is starting at shooting guard. It’s simple: the only Clippers starter that Jamal Murray can guard is Patrick Beverley. The only Clippers starter that Monte Morris can guard is Patrick Beverley. If they both start, one of them is either guarding Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, or Marcus Morris. That’s… not a good outcome for Denver.
  • Nobody can guard Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi will make some shots and miss some, but it’s almost never gonna have anything to do with who’s on him. It didn’t matter in the first round and it didn’t matter in game 1, as he put up an insanely casual 29 points on 12-16 shooting.
  • Jamal Murray is going to have a hell series. Murray is a very good player, and even though his historic first round performance is unsustainable, he’s not gonna have 12 points while shooting 33% from the field and 25% all series either. But things are going to be hard for him, as all four of the Clippers’ good perimeter defenders have no major threats to worry about besides Jamal. On one possession, Murray navigated multiple off-ball screens while LA’s defense casually switched them–from PG, to Patrick Beverley, to Kawhi Leonard, until Marcus Morris finally ended up stifling him when he got the ball. If Mike Malone can’t find a way to get him good shots, the Nuggets are going to have a hard time scoring.
  • LA can exploit Torrey Craig. I don’t want to pick on Torrey, since Denver’s struggles tonight were clearly systemic, but it’s hard to see how he stays on the court in this series. He was -21 in 22 minutes, and while +/- doesn’t mean a lot without context (Nikola Jokic was a team-worst -24, and nobody is saying he shouldn’t play going forward), Craig is an obvious match-up problem for Denver. Playing as an absolute non-threat offensively with the second unit, he gives the Clippers a free defensive assignment to hide Lou Williams, and doesn’t give Denver enough defensively to make up for that. Williams had a quiet 10 points and 4 assists tonight, but made a big impact in his minutes, and the Clippers will keep going on runs with Lou if Malone doesn’t target him on defense by playing Craig.
  • Patrick Beverley is a difference-maker. I mean, this won’t shock anyone, but it deserves mention how big of an impact he had in just 12 game 1 minutes–big enough that I couldn’t believe he had only played 12 minutes. With 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists, he set the tone for the Clippers early and was a crucial cog in their best lineup during the four-minute stints he played with the starters. In an overall good night, Beverley’s return to action for the Clippers against Denver may have been the best part of game 1.

Things Game 1 Suggested:

  • Denver’s bench ain’t Dallas’ bench. Michael Porter Jr. and Monte Morris are both going to have good games in this series, but the concern may have been a little overblown after how terribly Trey Burke, Seth Curry, and Boban Marjanovic wrecked the Clippers in the first round. While Porter Jr. is the most talented of that bunch, he can be a tad volatile–as evidenced in game 1, when he was blocked at the rim by Montrezl Harrell and promptly chucked a contested three and committed a charge the next two times he touched the ball out of frustration. He’ll score more than 5 points going forward, but he only broke 15 once in the first round, and he wasn’t going against Kawhi Leonard and Marcus Morris.
  • Marcus Morris could have a big series. Morris was huge for the Clippers against Denver in game 1, but I’m hesitant to lean too heavily into this, if only because I think LA’s possessions ending in Morris shooting instead of George or Leonard is likely what the Nuggets want. But without much to speak of defensively in Denver’s rotation, Morris being the third guy for LAC means he’s gonna have favorable match-ups. Paul Millsap doesn’t have it anymore as a one-on-one defender, and the Clippers will relentlessly target Michael Porter Jr if he’s guarding Morris. Shooting 7-10 from the field and 4-5 from deep isn’t sustainable for anybody, but Marcus was getting good looks in game 1. Half of his shots being threes is a great sign, and there wasn’t much to gripe about the looks he was able to find inside the arc either.
  • Doc Rivers is playing a 10-man rotation… for now. There was some question heading into this series if Rivers would play 10 guys with Patrick Beverley returning. Would Reggie Jackson or Landry Shamet get bumped out of the guard rotation? Would Rivers play small and go away from JaMychal Green? Tonight, before the game got out of hand, Rivers was clearly committed to playing all ten of his rotation guys. The caveat: this is game 1, and Patrick Beverley was only playing 4 minutes per quarter as he comes back from a calf injury. If he’s fully healthy and playing 8 minutes a quarter, there just isn’t an option other than reducing Lou Williams’ minutes or trimming the rotation.

Want the opposing perspective on how the Clippers fared against Denver in game 1? Check out what our friend TJ McBride had to take away from game 1 at Mile High Sports.

Lucas Hann

Lucas Hann

Lucas has covered the Clippers since 2011, and has been credentialed by the team since 2014. He co-founded 213Hoops with Robert Flom in January 2020.  He is a graduate of Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA and St. John's University in Queens, NY.  He earned his MA in Communication and Rhetorical Studies from Syracuse University.

18 Comments

  • Avatar Oodypkt says:

    Good game, you should win a game you are supposed to.
    That’s a sign of a good team.
    Bev is so important. His energy brings the whole team to the next level.
    Sham and Green are such a good role player.
    Green brings toughness to the team.
    Sham can space the floor and his baseline cut that leads to lay-ups or dunks are so underrated.

  • Avatar jbugs says:

    Lucas, when are you expecting Denver to be well rested? They don’t get an extra day off at any point in the next week. Yes, they looked gassed, but they also looked like they don’t have the defensive personnel to slow down this clippers team at all. Our guys are also the perfect roster to mess up what Denver does offensively. This is a great match up for the clippers. While I don’t expect Morris to go off like this the rest of the series, I expect everyone else to make similar contributions (so happy to see Bev back. He really completes this team). 5 games still seems like a likely outcome at this point. I can see the Clippers coming out sluggish 1-2 games and dropping one of them. I don’t expect Malone to figure out how to beat us.

  • Josh Josh says:

    I learned:
    Playoff Kawhi is real
    Michael Porter Jr is not ready for clippers (5 points, FG: 2-9, 3 point: 0-6)
    Rodney McGruder’s hair is good looking

  • Avatar chogokin says:

    I learned that Mike Malone is a fine coach, but he’s not at Rick Carlisle’s level of scheming. I don’t care how tired the Nuggets were, Doc trotted out the dreaded Lou-Reggie-Trez trinity for stretches and the team didn’t fall apart.

  • Avatar osamu6238 says:

    I feel like too much is being made out of this “extra rest” the Clips have had. TNT wants to spit out that the Clips have only played 1 game in the last 8 days, which kind of ignores the fact that EVERYONE had like 4 days “off” last week. Sure the Nuggets played a brutal 7 game series, but they seriously make it sound like the Clips finished their series in like a sweep. The Nuggets had to play one extra game in that same 8 day stretch.

    If anything, I think it proves more of the depth of the Clips. Kawhi scores 30 without breaking a sweat and the clips get much more production from all their role players. Also helps to have a few blowouts in there. I think if Denver is tired, it’s not really because of the one extra game, but the fact they were relying on Murray to score 50 a night in their wins. And if that’s the case, I’m not sure what they can do in the next few days to even up the load. For their sake, I’m sure they’re hoping the early night last night helps, but this is the playoffs where even in a blowout, the starters are putting in 30+ min/game.

    • Avatar mlslaw1 says:

      Thoughtful analysis on the rest issues. How soon the media forgets about the 4 day work stoppage/protest. In the distant past already. Aside from that, don’t forget no travel and few distractions.

      Plus, this has got to be the “bonding” experience of a lifetime. These guys definitely will figure out what guys are really, really like. I saw a very cool bubble photo of a bunch of euros (incl. Zu, Nurk, Dragon, Jokic and the rest), sitting down to a bubble dinner and they looked like they were having the time of their lives. Very few opps like that for those guys. Fireman mite be able to relate better to the experience. Or maybe reservists off for training.

      Some guys mite even be in favor of every season going this way. Really like the way the players have all that room to spread out. Betting they’d be in favor of that feature continuing.

  • lying dog-faced pony soldier lying dog-faced pony soldier says:

    Bleacher Report says the Clippers have “an air of absolute power” and are “terrifying.”

  • lying dog-faced pony soldier lying dog-faced pony soldier says:

    G Rap can sure turn a phrase. The poet laureate of 213 Hoops. “Deep ass talented/multi weapon Team” also touched my soul.