The Clippers finally put together a complete defensive performance against the Nuggets in Game 4, even if their offensive struggles prevented them from running away with the game until the fourth quarter. Here are some key numbers from LA’s win.
12: Denver’s first-quarter points
The Nuggets had been averaging 35.7 points per first quarter while shooting 62.3% from the field. Even in LA’s wins, the Clippers were playing from behind after letting Denver get into a rhythm early. That wasn’t the case in Game 4.
The Clippers forced the Nuggets into 5-of-17 shooting in the opening period and allowed only four free throw attempts, limiting Denver to 12 points. The Nuggets had as many turnovers as made shots in the first quarter and were unprepared for LA’s activity level in the passing lanes.
Nikola Jokic made 4-of-8 shots, but the rest of his team only made one field-goal attempt. LA seems more willing to let Jokic be a scorer so that he can’t be a passer and get his teammates going, and that plan worked to perfection early in the game. Ivica Zubac has also been very good at handling Jokic in single coverage so that the Clippers aren’t forced to help, and Zubac’s defense on the perimeter has improved as the series has gone on.
0: Reggie Jackson’s minutes in the competitive portion of the game
Jackson got onto the floor in the final seconds to dribble out the clock with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the bench, but otherwise he was the odd man out in the Clippers’ new nine-man rotation.
It isn’t Jackson’s fault entirely that the three-man lineups with him, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell have been defensive sieves (140.2 defensive rating in the playoffs, per Pivot Analysis) but Doc Rivers isn’t going to bench either Williams or Harrell because of their offensive utility. That meant Jackson had to go in order to preserve some semblance of defensive integrity in the second unit. Patrick Beverley now plays alongside Williams in the backcourt until Leonard comes back into the game, allowing the two Sixth Men of the Year to thrive in their pick-and-roll without worrying about conceding boatloads of points on the other end. Williams and Harrell actually have a positive net rating without Jackson, and their defensive rating is 106.8 in those minutes.
Having a 10-man rotation was always going to be unsustainable in the postseason, and either Jackson or Landry Shamet was going to be the casualty. Shamet has been more active in his drive-and-kick game and is a better defender, so even though Jackson is the more deadly spot-up shooter, it looks like he’ll be another DNP-Coach’s Decision on most nights the rest of the way.
38-22: The points in the paint margin
Despite the comfortable victory, the Clippers weren’t great on offense. They only shot 41.8% from the field and 28.6% from beyond the arc, but they were aggressive at attacking the basket, outshooting and outscoring the Nuggets 38-22 in the paint. Setting up shop near the basket also meant that the Clippers earned more free throws, and that they were in position for offensive rebounds, and they collected nine of those compared to five for Denver.
The Clippers have great jump-shooters, but they have shown other ways to win when the jumpers aren’t falling, and that was the key to defeating the Nuggets in Game 4. LA had to be more physical, and the Clippers decisively won that battle. Now, they’re one game away from winning the series.