The Clippers had spurts of greatness against the Nuggets in Game 3 that helped them overcome long spells of inattentiveness to earn the win and a 2-1 series lead. Here are three stats that stand out from the victory.
32: Paul George’s scoring total
As Kawhi Leonard labored on the offensive end again (to be fair, his night still resulted in 23 points), George was the pulse of the Clippers’ scoring attack. George was stifled a bit by Gary Harris in Game 2, but came out much more aggressive Monday. He had 10 points in the first and third quarters, helping to set the tone offensively in both halves while the rest of his team took longer to get going.
George was equally successful driving to the hoop as he was pulling up from long range. His three ball was particularly important because the Clippers had gotten into a bad habit of shooting out of double teams in the previous game instead of trusting the pass. They moved the ball better in Game 3, and George was the beneficiary of open looks on the perimeter as a result.
George’s offensive explosion complemented a stellar defensive effort as he was largely responsible for locking up Jamal Murray down the stretch. Murray missed his fair share of open 3-pointers, but otherwise, George was in his air space all night. When the Denver guard tried to get looks closer to the basket, George was there to deter him, forcing him off balance and into some tough floaters to evade the Clipper wing’s length. George even drew a critical offensive foul on Murray late in the fourth quarter.
After the game, George spoke about the responsibility he felt to carry the team when Leonard was not at his best.
“I’ve got to help him,” George said. “Kawhi’s done more than enough down this stretch. Some nights it’s not going to be his night, and I have to be myself. I have to help him, pull the weight, make plays, make shots. It’s just, you know, give him credit, getting us this far, but he can’t go into every game with that pressure that he’s got to be great on both ends.”
That effort did not go unnoticed, as Leonard acknowledged the role George played in setting the tone for the Clippers.
“He did a great job,” Leonard said postgame about George. “He came out there with energy, led us on both ends of the floor, we just followed his lead.”
+20: Lou Williams’ plus-minus
Williams’ individual offense has been somewhat muted in this series; he has only averaged 11 points after scoring 18.2 per game during the regular season. But Williams makes the team offense flow. He has played in Rivers’ system longer than any Clipper, and knows how to get things humming. His offensive rating for the game was 125.4, second on the Clippers behind Ivica Zubac.
Williams’ jumper isn’t quite on track yet, but he had a knack for hitting clutch shots when the Clippers needed them in Game 3, including a 3-pointer in transition to cap an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter, and a lay-up to put the team up six with two minutes to play.
But the reason Williams’ impact was so pronounced in LA’s win was because he also contributed on the defensive end. He had two steals in the second quarter as he helped on Nikola Jokic post-ups and poked the ball away; both turnovers led to fast-break lay-ups for the Clippers as LA made a 12-2 run to end the half.
“Lou is always great, he’s one of the leaders of this team,” Patrick Beverley said postgame. “Anything Lou does, defensively, offensively, doesn’t surprise me. Underground goat for a reason.”
19: Denver’s fourth-quarter points
The Nuggets scored 88 points through the first three quarters, shooting 51.4% from the field and 40% on 3-pointers. But the Clippers limited them to 19 in the final period on 7-of-22 shooting. They also forced the ball out of Jokic and Murray’s hands and forced Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr. to each take more shots (six apiece) than either of the two stars.
The Clippers lost the possession battle for most of the game; they took fewer shot attempts, were outrebounded on the offensive glass, and turned the ball over more. But in the fourth, they had four more rebounds than the Nuggets and forced five turnovers. LA may not have given a complete defensive performance, but the team at least showed up on that end late.
“It just came down to, really, we made tougher defensive plays down the stretch,” Rivers said.
Hopefully, the Clippers won’t have to rely on a late defensive rally to save them in the next game.