Where I live, the game today between Denver and L.A. tipped off at about 3am. At this stage of the bubble, I didn’t have that early start in me. Last night, I decided I would skip this game and give the write up a miss. Unless, of course, Denver pulled off another crazy upset and managed to somehow get the victory. Imagine my surprise when I woke up, checked the score and saw another come from behind win for the Nuggets. Unbelievable. I ran to the tv, booted up the replay and here we are, talking hoops again. I love this game.
It looked like a different Denver team on the court today. I know. That’s part of the problem with the Nuggets. Inconsistency. Sometimes, they look like one of the best teams in the league. Sometimes, they look like they should not of been invited to the bubble and should be at home, just like the Knicks. It’s easy to forget that this team finished third in the Western Conference. Today felt like a statement from them. I really hope it’s a turning point. I still can’t imagine they actually win game 7, but what if they did? They have got me buying into the hype.
Right from the start of this game, the Nuggets were engaged and playing hard. On both ends. On defense, they made the Clippers work for every basket. On offensive, the ball was moving around non stop. There was very little iso. Lots of ball movement, passing out of double teams, making the extra pass. Passing up a good shot for a great shot. That was Denver today.
At one point in the first half, the Clippers went on an 11-0 run, but it didn’t feel like it. If the scoreboard wasn’t on the screen, I probably would of thought the game was tied. It wasn’t until a sloppy end of the second quarter that it looked like the Nuggets were in trouble. It was about a 3-4 minute stretch, in which Denver could not score and all they did was foul and turn the ball over. They kept their composure though and rode out the storm. That ended up being the difference. Composure. Denver had it, L.A. did not.
Let’s talk about Nikola Jokic for a bit. What an incredible game (again) from the big guy. He had a double/double, which almost feels like a guarantee lately, with 34 points and 14 rebounds. He added 7 assists to that as well. We all know it, but I’m going to say it anyway. This guy can pass the basketball. He played a very intelligent and very efficient game today. One play, he had an open 3 point shot available. He didn’t take it though, he dribbled and took a mid range jumper instead. Passing up a good shot, for a great shot. Another play, he hit a step back 3, on one foot. Sometimes you need a bit of luck as well. Awesome performance.
If you keep up with my articles regularly, you may of heard Jamal Murray mentioned once or twice. He was pretty incredible again in this one. 21 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. 69% for the game, he only missed 4 shots. I love efficiency and I love Jamal Murray.
It wasn’t just those two though. It was a great team game. Except for Jerami Grant, everyone scored at a decent percentage for Denver. More than anything though, it was the attitude of the team that stood out to me. I’ve already said it, but I’ll give them credit again. Denver remained engaged defensively throughout this game. That’s what they have to do. It was also great to see the bench constantly celebrating. They aren’t ready to go home and they play like they genuinely believe they can win this series. That attitude is what it takes. If you are playing like you have no chance, you’ve already lost.
I can praise the Nuggets all day, but let’s talk about the Clippers. It was another late game collapse for them. Two consecutive games that they have had double digit leads in the second half and gone on to lose. I don’t have the exact time, but it must of been close to 7 minutes in which the Clippers did not score a point. That is ridiculous. I don’t care how good a team is playing defensively, you need to find ways to score the basketball. They made 4 shots out of 21 attempts in the third quarter. They only scored 35 points in the second half. When you consider they scored 34 in the first quarter, that highlights how poor it was. This team is more inconsistent that I originally thought.
Leonard and George both had solid games. Leonard had 25, George had 33 and both shot over 40% in the game. They combined for 14 rebounds, 8 assists, 7 steals and 2 blocks. Not much more you can ask from them, however in moments like the third quarter, you really need to see them step up and get things going. This team looks to them for guidance. If they can’t find it, neither will the rest of the team.
Where was everyone else though? You can’t just rely on one or two to always get the job done. Zubac’s is getting dominated at the centre position. Once again, I wonder why Rivers isn’t even giving Noah a chance? What did they sign him for? Morris could not buy a basket tonight. Beverley fouled out and made little impact. Lou got it going late, but I barely noticed him most of the game. The new sixth man of the year was absent. Shamet had 1 point. JaMychal Green was the third best Clipper tonight.
Here we are. 6 games down, 1 left. Who wants it more? At this stage, it feels like Denver do. They have the momentum, they believe in themselves and they’ve pulled off crazy comebacks like this before. This Clippers team has the talent, but they need to start acting and playing like it. It’s hard to picture the Western Conference finals being between Denver and the Lakers, but it’s just as hard to write Denver off. I can’t wait for game 7.