Clippers vs. Nuggets, Game 7 Preview

LA will never live this down if they lose.

Jim Rome
September 15, 2020 - 11:33 am
Kawhi Leonard

USA Today

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You know who absolutely skated yesterday? You know who didn’t take nearly the heat that they normally would’ve taken? The Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers better send a thank you note to Roger Goodell and the NFL because they dodged a missile yesterday.

If there hadn’t been any NFL on Sunday, yesterday would’ve been all about the Clippers and the Nuggets. It would’ve been all about the Clippers blowing a 16 point lead in Game 5.  And a 19 point lead in Game 6. It would’ve been about the Clippers going Clipper at the very worst time.

It would’ve been everyone wondering how a team with two Hall of Fame players, another all-defensive team member, and two Sixth Men of the Year, managed to blow double digit second half leads in consecutive games. And the word “choke” would be thrown around liberally. And it would be fair. 

In fact, that only unfair thing about that would be the fact that it doesn’t give enough credit to the Nuggets. Because while the Clippers dodged a bullet yesterday because they didn’t spend the entire day getting hammered in the media, the Nuggets continued to fly under the radar and not get the credit they deserve.

These guys are 5-0 in elimination games this year. The phrase tough as hell does not do them justice. They are built for moments like this, as president of basketball operations Tim Connelly told me yesterday.

They showed up in Florida a couple months ago with eight healthy players due to injuries and Covid. And now they’re one game away from the conference finals.

Not only are they built for this, they are having fun doing this. And how could you not? Have you seen some of the shots Nikola Jokic is making? He’s draining those rainbows and guys are breaking out the air guitar on the sideline.

Most teams go down 3-1 in a series to the title favorites and they’re packing their bags. They’re ready to leave the bubble and get back home. And they’re really doing that when they’re down 3-1 in the series and double-digits in the elimination game, but not Denver.

They aren’t tense, they’re loose. And they absolutely bullying the Clippers in the second half of the last two games.

LA is getting worked by Jokic on switches. He’s playing Montrez Harrell off the floor. Harrell is the Sixth Man of the Year and he’s been getting played back to the bench. And it’s not just that the team that everyone expected would be the best defensive team in the playoffs is blowing huge leads with their defense, their offense in the second half isn’t much better.

And there is no better evidence than how LA is shooting when they have open looks.

LA made 71% of their uncontested shots in the first half of Game 5. And then 40% in the second half. In Game 6, the same thing: 64% in the first half, 43% in the second half.

In other words, when it’s pressure time, when it’s time to end the series, the Clipper are bricking it.

And don’t get it twisted. The Nuggets are not a fun team that overstayed its welcome and is just happy to be there. They are a damn good team. They have the best offensive big in the league. They have a budding superstar in Jamal Murray and they have a culture that works. They were the number two seed in the West last year. They were the number three in the West this year. They’ve earned everything they have.

And now we have Game 7 tonight. The Clippers never should’ve let it get this far. The fact that it’s gotten has to worry the hell out of them: and if it doesn’t, it should.  . It speaks to LA’s tendency to get up and to go to sleep. Or to have flaws that get covered up because they have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Honestly, it’s a good strategy. Have two future Hall of Famers on your roster and that will erase a lot of problems. The rest of the team can fall asleep or have an off-night and either Kawhi or PG can carry them to a win.

As George said: "We're still in the driver seat. It's not a panic mode. We have a Game 7. I like our odds with our group."

I get that, sort of. I mean, in a Game 7, the odds are going to favor the team with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley, and two Sixth Men of the Year. Any one of them can get hot and win a Game 7 on their own.

We’ve see Kawhi do this time and time again, and make it look easy. We’ve seen George dominate a game at both ends. We’ve seen what Beverley can do on defense and how that ignites a team on offense. Or what Lemon Pepper Lou can do.

But why is that team in a Game 7 in the first place? And why didn’t one of those guys win them Game 5 or Game 6? Because the last thing you want to do is give a team like the Nuggets even a moment of life, because if they have it, they will take it. And if the clippers turn a 3-1 series lead, into a Game 7 loss with that roster and that coach and that owner, they will never, ever live that down.