After the Clippers wanted six video games to see off the Mavericks within the first spherical of the NBA playoffs, I figured they’d have shaken off the rust, and would care for enterprise till they (inevitably) met the Lakers within the Western Convention finals.
Whereas the Nuggets had some piece in Nikola Jokic and an ascendant Jamal Murray, I figured Denver needed to be exhausted after their epic, randomly thrilling first-round sequence in opposition to Utah.
The Clippers would care for enterprise. They’ve the higher group, and the most effective few gamers alive in Kawhi Leonard. So long as Leonard didn’t neglect the best way to play basketball, L.A. would dispatch Denver and fairly simply.
In Sport 2, Kawhi Leonard forgot the best way to play basketball.
Properly, he didn’t neglect the best way to play basketball, however he had about as unhealthy an evening as you could possibly anticipate to see from final yr’s Finals MVP.
Leonard went 4-17 from the sphere on the night time, together with 0-3 from three, and 4 turnovers. It speaks to Leonard’s greatness that he nonetheless completed with a greater than respectable 13-10-8 line on the night time, however the Clippers demand extra from him than a 24% capturing night time and solely seven free throws. His +/- on the night time was a team-worst -16.
On the flip aspect, the Nuggets got here out aggressively. Denver jumped out to a 14-2 lead within the opening minutes, with Jokic and Murray enjoying extraordinarily aggressively and the Clippers wanting like they had been waking up from a late nap.
The primary quarter ended 44-25 to Denver, and regardless of a pair late pushes from L.A., they by no means seemed at risk of giving up that lead.
What’s encouraging for Denver:
They gained a convincing Sport 2 and evened up the sequence. Jamal Murray seemed like the most effective participant on the ground for the night time, and Jokic received a ton of excellent seems to be within the publish in opposition to a superb Clippers protection.
This win tells Denver they belong, and if they’ll maintain the depth up, they’ll run the Clippers off the ground in stretches. And so they confirmed, for one recreation a minimum of, they’ll maintain Kawhi in examine. Not a variety of groups can say that.
What’s encouraging for Los Angeles:
Kawhi simply performed about as badly as he’s ever performed, and he practically completed with a triple double and the Clippers solely misplaced by single digits. With 2:37 within the fourth, they pulled the sport inside seven. A pair completely different bounces within the final two minutes, they usually may have gained that recreation.
Even when Kawhi seemed out of it, Paul George seemed like himself once more. After some early stumbles within the playoffs, George has settled in, and completed with 22 factors and eight rebounds on the night time. His lack of free throws (solely 5 on the night time) and Kawhi’s lack of free throws in discouraging, however it offers a straightforward narrative for the Clippers teaching workers — get aggressive, and we win.
What’s encouraging for basketball followers:
This sequence isn’t going to be a cake stroll for the Clippers. We get extra basketball. That is going to be enjoyable.