The Clippers have a chance to take a commanding 3-1 lead over Denver with a win in Game 4 tonight. Only 12 times in NBA history (the first was in 1968) has a team come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series, though one of those instances was the Nuggets in the first round of this postseason.
Where: AdventHealth Arena, Orlando, Florida
When: Wednesday, September 9 at 6:00 p.m. PT
How to watch: ESPN
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac
Nuggets: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic
Nuggets: Will Barton (right knee), Vlatko Cancar (left foot) — OUT
The Clippers have plenty to be confident about heading into this matchup. Paul George has been an offensive dynamo, averaging 24.3 points per game on 50.0/45.8/80.0 shooting splits. He has also owned his second-star matchup against Jamal Murray. He completely bottled up the Denver guard in Game 3, particularly down the stretch; Murray is only averaging 4.3 points per second half in this series and has clearly worn down throughout games against the relentless defensive pressure from George and the rest of the Clippers.
“Every night they take on the challenge of guarding the best players, and they’re capable of shutting them down,” Ivica Zubac said about George and Kawhi Leonard’s defense. “It’s a big advantage for us when it comes down the stretch, to have your best player guard the other best player and get a stop. It energizes the whole team and gives us confidence on defense.”
While the Nuggets have withered late in games, the Clippers have found more and more ways to succeed in clutch time. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell gave their best collective bench performance of the postseason in LA’s latest win, and Harrell’s energy was especially challenging for Nikola Jokic to contend with in the fourth quarter. That bench tandem was consistent for the Clippers throughout the regular season and is starting to find its footing once more in the playoffs.
It’s also reasonable to expect Leonard to shoot better than he has in the past two games. A career 49.0% shooter from the field won’t make under 40% of his field goals for too long — the poor 3-point shooting is especially due for a regression to the mean.
As for what the Clippers can improve upon, it comes down to their starts. Denver has been the better first-quarter team throughout the series, averaging 35.7 points in the first 12 minutes on 62.3% shooting, including 50.0% on threes. The Clippers have shown the ability to turn on their defense late, but it would behoove them to strike first instead of having to rely on late rallies to make up for poor defense early.
“We’ve just been sketchy defensively,” Doc Rivers said Tuesday. “We’ve at times played very well. When we do, we’re really good. We’ve shown the ability to get needed stops. I think that’s a great quality for your team. You have to have a stop if you can get one, and we’ve done that, but as good as we’ve been in stretches, I think there’s a better defensive team in there throughout the game, and that’s what we have to do a better job of.”
Enjoy the game, and comment below! Go Clippers!