Game 6 between the Clippers and the Nuggets felt like an afterthought on a jam-packed day of live sports. Due to conflicts with the US Open on ESPN and the final day of the WNBA regular season on ABC, the game was slotted in at 10:00 a.m. West Coast time, simultaneous with the kickoff of Week 1 of the NFL season. There wasn’t even pregame coverage, as ESPN devoted the hour before tip-off to an NFL show.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, they treated their second-half performance as an afterthought as well. They blew a 16-point halftime lead, looking like a completely different unit after the break, eventually losing 111-98. Here are three stats that stand out from the team’s latest defeat.
The Clippers shot 26.3% in the second half.
When Kawhi Leonard was asked if the team choked in the second half, Leonard said, “Just went cold. We went cold in that third quarter. That’s it.”
Cold may have been an understatement for just how bad LA’s offense was in that period. They made 10-of-38 shots in the final two quarters, and only four players even scored the ball for the Clippers. A team that was universally lauded for its depth — one that finished with the second-best offense during the regular season and had the best offense in the playoffs entering this game — only had four players find the bottom of the net for half of the game.
Part of it was simply an inability to make open shots. Ivica Zubac had good looks in the paint, and Leonard and Paul George got to their spots in the midrange, but the shots didn’t fall.
Below is every single shot attempt the Clippers missed during a six-minute scoreless stretch in the third quarter. Many of those shots are ones that the Clippers would be happy with in a different context. But with the team going cold, and Denver seizing momentum, Doc Rivers and the coaching staff would much rather have ball movement and actions in the paint. There is a time for jump shots — even when taken by two all-world wings like Leonard and George — and this wasn’t it.
Denver deserves credit for keeping LA away from the basket, but the Clippers also deserve blame for trying to live by the jump shot.
Ivica Zubac was plus-11 in 29 minutes.
After the game, Rivers was clear about where he stands on plus-minus — he doesn’t think it’s an adequate judge of how players perform in a game.
“You know, Trezz is up-and-down for us right now, we know that,” Rivers said. “Listen, if you go on just plus-minus, which I think a lot of people do, I don’t think either one of our 5s were effective tonight, if you want to be honest. And so, we have to get better play out of both of them — yeah, I get that. But when you sometimes watch the game and then add up that minus and see if he was involved in it, you know, it does happen sometimes. So just watch it first before we make that critique.”
However, Zubac is overall plus-42 in this series (he’s been positive in five of the six games) while his backup Montrezl Harrell is minus-29. When Nikola Jokic was on the court with Zubac, the Clippers outscored the Nuggets by 11. When Jokic played without Zubac, Denver outscored LA by 20. Twenty points in ten minutes!
At some point, this isn’t an isolated instance. This has become a series-long trend.
Patrick Beverley fouled out in 17 minutes.
Beverley is arguably the third-most important player on the Clippers. He has been limited by a minutes restriction thanks to the calf injury he suffered earlier in the playoffs, but in Game 6, Beverley took himself out of the game by fouling out, playing the fewest minutes he has since Game 2 all of his own volition.
When he was in the game, Beverley wasn’t great, but he’s still a ball mover who willingly takes open shots and can attack the basket in a straight line, and he also saves possessions by flying in for offensive rebounds. The Clippers needed his help on the offensive end Sunday, and Beverley wasn’t available. The recent all-Defense second-team honoree will have to be more judicious about how he uses his fouls in Game 7.