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Clippers come out slow and come up short in 110-101 loss

A disastrous first quarter was too much for the Clippers to overcome in Game 2.

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Two Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

After Game 1, the Clippers were clear about what earned them the win. As Paul George said, “We just played defense.”

That defense was nowhere to be found at the start of the game. The Clippers let the Nuggets get whatever shots they wanted, and with no pressure, as Denver scored 44 points in the first quarter. The Nuggets led by 19 after the first quarter, and though the Clippers won every other quarter, they just didn’t have enough to make up that early deficit in their 110-101 loss in Game 2.

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray each scored double digits in the first quarter, both shooting 5-of-6 from the field as the Nuggets collectively shot 70.4% in the period. The Clippers didn’t help themselves at all, turning the ball over six times during the first 12 minutes, leading to seven Denver points.

The defense started to clean up in the second period, and the Clippers were downright suffocating in the third quarter, limiting the Nuggets to 17 points on 26.9% shooting. The problem was that the Clippers couldn’t score enough to get back into the game. One culprit, oddly enough, was Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard came into the game with 15 straight playoff games with at least 20 straight points. He has scored at least 30 in five games in this postseason. His metronomic consistency has helped the Clippers weather the absence of Patrick Beverley, the struggles of Paul George, and the unexpected antics of Marcus Morris Sr.

Instead, Leonard had his worst game in the playoffs, partly due to a committed defensive effort from Jerami Grant and the Nuggets as a whole — who sent swarms of bodies at the Clippers’ best player throughout the game — but also due to self-inflicted errors. Leonard shot 4-of-17 from the floor, including 3-of-11 in the paint, and had four turnovers. He had just 13 points on the evening.

The rest of the Clippers weren’t able to pick up the slack for their MVP. Paul George had 22 points, which is good for a second banana but not for a leading scorer. Lou Williams had 13 points off the bench but didn’t hit any of his six threes, and Morris had just 11 points, unable to make an impact against the newly spry Paul Millsap.

Despite playing a horrible offensive game, the Clippers still pulled to within five points on a George corner three with 8:30 to play, but at that point, Jokic took over while Leonard stayed flat. Credit also goes to Gary Harris, who hit three huge 3-pointers in the final quarter, all off of passes when Jokic was doubled.

Only two Clippers had a positive plus-minus: Williams and JaMychal Green, who earned minutes as a small ball five to help the Clippers switch on defense without compromising their spacing. Green led the team with 11 rebounds in 26 minutes and continues to make a case for more playing time.

The Clippers seemed to have understood the seriousness of the moment in Game 1, but lost that intensity today. They’ll need it back in Game 3.