Clippers stuff Nuggets in Game 1 semifinal win

Now that the Dallas Mavericks are behind them, the Los Angeles Clippers have moved on to bigger and better things to conquer. Like in the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals. Game 1 of this series turned out to be a solid performance all-around for the Clippers in their 120-97 win.

The biggest hero of the night for the Clippers was their ability to lock in defensively to shut down rising star Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic.

After outshooting the Mavericks in their first-round playoff matchup, the Clippers established a harder defensive approach against the Nuggets, at least in Game 1. The Clippers held Murray and Jokic to a combined 27 points. Murray was hassled all night and shot just 5 of 15 from the field for 12 points. Jokic would not fare too much better, going 6 of 14 for 15 points on the evening.

“I thought we cluttered it up a little bit,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after the game. “First-quarter, defense was not good but from that point on I thought we really locked in. You know, got into the ball, blew up a couple of their handoffs, but they are so difficult honestly. We’ll take the effort tonight for sure.”

After the Clippers gave up 31 points in the first quarter to Denver, Los Angeles then went deep into defensive mode and surrendered 36 points total in the second (20) and third (16) periods to turn a tied ballgame into a blowout victory.

“I thought we just locked into our assignments,” Clippers guard Paul George said. “I thought, to be honest, that was the best we’ve done so far against an opponent. I think we just locked into our assignments. Our attention to detail was great. And we followed the game plan…We just played defense.”

The Clippers were especially good in the third quarter when they forced Denver into shooting at a 28 percent clip. During the period, the Nuggets made only six of the 21 shots they attempted from the field. Denver’s mark from 3-point range was even more atrocious. In the third quarter alone, the Nuggets shot just 9.1 percent, making only 1 of 11 shots from 3-point range.

For the game, the Clippers held the Nuggets to 42 percent shooting overall from the field and limited Denver to a horrific 25 percent (9 of 36) from 3-point land. A large part of Denver’s shooting deficiency was the defensive pressure that the Clippers put on Murray and Jokic,” said Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard.

“Just trying to contest their shots, staying in front of them,” Leonard said. “I thought we did a great job of that, and you know, the other defenders, as well that, wasn’t in the action, they were on help-side defense, just that’s it, you know, but that team went through a seven-game series, and I’m sure they will come back more prepared for Game 2.”

Leonard had a stealthy efficient 29 points to lead five Clippers in double-figures. One of those players was Marcus Morris Sr. who chipped in with 18 points and continues to shine with his play.

You know, everybody knows coming into this team, Marcus is a scorer,” said George, who added 19 points and seven rebounds in the win. “He’s been a scorer with the Celtics. He’s been a scorer with New York. That’s his game. He knows how to score the ball. I think for him, it was an adjustment coming into a new team, trying to find his way, trying to fit in, playing alongside Kawhi, myself, Lou. He’s just trying to find his way and not step on anybody’s toes. I think for him, he’s got to be aggressive, as well, and he’s got to be himself, as well. I think what we have done best is just allowed him to be himself and play his game. He’s a playmaker and scorer and that benefits all of us as well.”

As good as they were on offense, the Clippers were a step ahead of the Nuggets all night on the defensive end. The Clippers’ stepped up play is just a matter of how the postseason works, Rivers said.

“You know, I think it’s just a different intensity to the playoffs,” Rivers said. “You can play the same team; they are overly prepared for you, so the little things stand out. One mistake will cost you a basket. One mistake will cost you a turnover. You run it right, you’ll get a basket or a shot. If you don’t execute, it’s going to hurt you, and part of that is intensity and focus, and you have to have that on every single play. I don’t think we understood that early on. I think we do now.”

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