Game 1 of the second-round series between the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets Thursday appeared to be a battle of a team in rhythm and coming off an emotional win (Nuggets) against a well-rested, perhaps rusty team (Clippers).
But the Clippers showed they had no rust despite over a week off between games, as they absolutely dominated the Nuggets in the final three quarters to win 120-97 in Orlando.
Kawhi Leonard led the way with 29 points in just 31 minutes of action, but the likes of Paul George, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Marcus Morris and Montrezl Harrell had good games for the Clippers in the victory.
The opening frame was high-energy and back-and-forth, the teams ending it tied 31-31, with Nuggets forward Jerami Grant setting the tone by hitting three 3-pointers. Kawhi Leonard and Marcus Morris each had 10 points in the first quarter for LA.
But that was it for the teams going toe-to-toe on the night. The Clippers started to take the edge in the second quarter, Leonard setting the tone for his team as they got out as far as 18 points in front before the halftime break. By the time the second quarter ended, LA had taken a 69-51 lead and were growing increasingly comfortable in the game.
While the Nuggets started hitting some shots as the game resumed, LA poured it on with another run in the 3rd quarter, extending their lead to 29 points. The Clippers led 91-67 at the end of three quarters, with Doc Rivers’ team dominating their opponent in all facets of the game.
In the fourth quarter, both teams started to clear their benches and give the starters some rest, with the game fully in hand for LA. Everybody who dressed for the Clippers saw playing time Wednesday.
Obviously it’s just one game, and I’d expect Denver to not look this off the pace for the whole series, but this was a comprehensive performance for the Clippers, who shot 57 percent from the field and a staggering 41.7 percent from 3-point range. There was no rust for the Clips.
At the same time, the mental, emotional and physical toll of their Game 7 win over the Utah Jazz left Denver unable to keep pace in this game, and as they settle back into a rhythm, they’ll likely be a stiffer test moving forward.
Game 2 of this series will be Saturday evening. After such a dominant performance by the Clippers in the opening game, expect Game 2 to be a pivotal contest, to see if LA can make quick work of the Nuggets or if Denver will regroup and find an answer.