After falling behind 3-1 against the Utah Jazz, the Denver Nuggets ripped off three straight wins to advance past the first round of the NBA playoffs. Jamal Murray looked like a superstar. Nikola Jokic seemed to find a groove. They had momentum.
And then they ran into Kawhi Leonard.
Well, Leonard and a rested, full-strength Los Angeles Clippers team. With their entire rotation available after missing Patrick Beverley for much of the first round, the Clippers sliced and diced the Nuggets to take a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
Kawhi Leonard looked unstoppable
After an even first quarter, the Clippers blew out the Nuggets in the second quarter to enter halftime with an 18-point lead. By the third quarter, it was 24 points.
Central to the Clippers’ masterclass was Leonard, who had no trouble finding his spots and scoring in the paint and at mid-range. He finished with 29 points on 12-of-16 shooting in just 32 minutes, and the Nuggets’ top priority for Game 2 is going to be figuring out how to prevent a repeat performance.
Kawhi getting whatever he wants 😳— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 4, 2020
He has 27 PTS and counting pic.twitter.com/Gq7VfMATA7
Behind Leonard was the Clippers’ deep rotation firing on all cylinders in the paint and at the perimeter. Beverley and Marcus Morris Sr. combined to go 6-of-8 from deep. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell both scored in double digits. Ivica Zubac held Jokic to 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting.
With Leonard and Beverley bearing down on him, Murray failed to replicate his supernova performance in the first round. He finished with 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting. As a team, the Nuggets shot 9-of-36 from deep and yielded 66 points in the paint.
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone admitted after the game that fatigue from a seven-game first-round series played a part in the Nuggets’ collapse after the first quarter.
Michael Malone postgame agreed that fatigue played a part in Denver's play tonight. "I liked our first quarter...the game was lost in our second quarter."— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) September 4, 2020
"Too much 1-on-1...too much random offense," Malone says.
If you’re looking for positives for the Nuggets, Paul Millsap (13 points, nine rebounds) seemed to bounce back from a rough first round, but there wasn’t much else. The Clippers simply put together one of their best performances in the bubble, and a lot is going to have to change for this series to become competitive.
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