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.
- Report: Clippers add Dan Craig as Assistant
- Rumor: 72-Game NBA Season Could Start December 22
- Clippers 2020 Exit Interview: Amir Coffey
- Clippers 2020 Exit Interview: Landry Shamet
- Rumor: Clippers target Atkinson, Craig for assistant coach
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.