The Los Angeles Clippers blew past the Denver Nuggets 120-97 in game one Thursday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points, Paul George had 19 and the Clippers had 5 players in double figures on their way to a convincing game 1 win. Los Angeles shot 57% from the field and held the Nuggets to just 42% shooting.
The Nuggets also had 4 players in double figures, but no one scored more than Nikola Jokic’s 15. It was a close game in the beginning, and the score was tied at 31 a piece after one quarter. The Nuggets would go on to score just 36 points the next two quarters as the clippers outscored them by 24 in that span.
It was a long night, and a completely different story than round 1, for Jamal Murray who scored just 15 points on 5-15 shooting and it was easy to see the Clippers were keying on him defensively all night. Two games removed from doing his best Michael Jordan impersonation, Murray has come back down to earth the last 2 contests. All in all, it was arguably the best defensive performance from the Clippers all postseason, who were at full strength for the first time since the season restarted.
Patrick Beverly was back for the first time in 6 games and he was his usual talkative, high-energy self according to coach Doc Rivers who said, “He’s a defensive captain with his voice. He calls out coverages. He holds everybody responsible. And to have that voice to start games is just invaluable. Then what it does, it just leaks over to the rest of the team. So when you see him playing like that, and talking like that on defense, it helps the entire team.” Beverly had 8 points in just 12 minutes of action in game 1.
Denver looked very much like a team that was still fatigued from their grueling 7-game round 1 victory over the Jazz. They finished a demanding game 7 just before midnight on Tuesday and only had one day of rest before they started this series against the Clippers. Los Angeles looked like a team that had been resting and preparing for almost a week.
The Clippers provide a very difficult matchup for a team like the Nuggets who have smaller guards and a Center who isn’t exactly a rim protector in Jokic. They have energetic, athletic bigs and great wing players like Leonard and George who were seemingly able to get their shots at will one Thursday night. Leonard, For example is now on a 15 game streak of 20 points or more in the playoffs and is shooting 80% on shots from 10–14 feet this postseason.
Denver needs to get plenty of rest before Saturday if they want to make adjustments and put up a tougher fight the rest of this series. The Clippers just need to keep doing what they’ve been doing the last three games and they will be difficult to beat. Game 2 is Saturday and we will find out if Denver can prove they can play with the Clippers, or if LA’s size, depth, and star power are too much for Nuggets to handle.