The Clippers were the lesser team in Game 7 against the Nuggets. They had a double-digit lead in the first half, but they were only up two at halftime, and then Denver went on what has become a patented second-half run to take control in the third quarter, eventually winning comfortably. Here are three stats that stand out from LA’s season-ending loss.
The pace of the game was 92.5.
Before the game, Jovan Buha of The Athletic pointed out that the pace of the game had been a strong predictor of which team would have an advantage. The Clippers averaged 102.2 possessions during the regular season, eighth-most in the league, compared to 97.6 for the Nuggets. Denver got that pace down to 94.5 over the past three games, and Game 7 was played even slower than that.
The Nuggets are at their best when they are deliberate, working the shot clock to find every possible passing angle, to make to one final cut to break the defense. The Clippers like to force turnovers and run and attack mismatches in early offense. The Nuggets won the pace battle, and they won the game. LA couldn’t keep up with Denver, but that wasn’t because the Nuggets were beating the Clippers up and down the floor; rather, they were beating them horizontally, exploiting all of the gaps in the half court against an LA defense that clearly wasn’t on the same page.
“You hope that you can lean on your defense,” Doc Rivers said postgame. “And I just didn’t think — you know, even though the numbers say we are a good defensive team — I just think we didn’t ever realize that part of our game at all.”
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined for 24 points.
The main reason to feel confident in the Clippers heading into Game 7 was because of Kawhi Leonard’s experience on this stage. Just last season, he was in a Game 7 in the conference semifinals with the majority of his teammates terrified of the moment. No one on that Toronto team wanted to take a shot, so Leonard took 39, including the final jumper that bounced around four times before giving his team the win.
But that Leonard was not the one who showed up for the Clippers. He tried his best to win the game for this team, but he was unable to. Part of the problem was missing good shots. He drove to the basket repeatedly, but only made 4-of-10 field-goal attempts in the paint. His 3-point jumper was a little off throughout the playoffs, as he converted 32.9% of his threes compared to 37.8% during the regular season. Leonard missed seven of his nine threes and crucially didn’t get to the free-throw line once en route to 14 points.
Paul George was arguably worse. He only had 10 points and only had two assists compared to Leonard’s six. His silky-smooth jumper abandoned him to the tune of 2-of-11 shooting from distance, and the most memorable takeaway from his performance was his foul trouble.
There is no debate about a third scorer when the first two combine for less than a no. 1 option. Leonard and George needed to be better. They didn’t deliver.
The Clippers scored 33 points in the second half.
George said after the game that he didn’t think the previous games were weighing on the Clippers. But a lot of the same beats from Games 5 and 6 played out in Game 7. The Clippers had a double-digit lead, and the Nuggets roared back. In Game 6, the Clippers scored 35 second-half points, which seemed near-impossible for this offense; they outdid themselves with 33 in the second half of Game 7.
This LA team did not look like it was fighting for its playoff lives. Marc Spears reported that Clippers players were asking out of the game in the fourth quarter, unable to play more than a few minutes at a time. The team missed its first 11 shots of the final period. Altogether, the team had a 76.7 offensive rating in the second half, an unacceptable number for a team that fancied itself a title contender.
Several Clippers were so fatigued during Game 7 against Denver that they struggled to play stints longer than three minutes and asked out of the game for a breather in the fourth quarter, sources told @TheUndefeated.— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpears) September 16, 2020
While the Clippers faltered, the Nuggets got stronger. While the cracks in the Clippers’ chemistry came through, the Nuggets looked like they were comfortable in their own skin. They knew exactly what their teammates were going to do, and they executed. They earned the win, and the Clippers deserved to go home.