After the Los Angeles Clippers dispatched the Dallas Mavericks in the First Round, easily handled the Denver Nuggets in Game 1, and raced out to a 3-1 series lead, it seemed that the Clippers had been pegged to win their first NBA Title. Despite the fact the Doc Rivers’ teams have lost 3-1 series leads twice before. The 2015 Clippers versus the Houston Rockets and the 2003 Orlando Magic versus the Detroit Pistons.
On the other hand, the Denver Nuggets have overcome this 3-1 deficit before. In their First Round matchup with the Utah Jazz.
With the Clippers one victory away from their opportunity to get out of the long shadow cast by their in-city rival and show that L.A. was now a Clipper town. Again, the Clippers just need 48 more minutes of Clipper basketball to get their shot.
With three opportunities, the Clippers just could not get it done. Were they looking ahead at their shot versus the Lakers? The numbers for the final three games of the series suggest that might have been the case. With great opportunities to close out the series in each of the final three games, the Clippers could not simply closeout the Nuggets.
In Game 5, the Clippers led by as many as 16 in the first half. The Clippers even led by 12 at halftime, but were outscored by the Nuggets, 67-49 in the second half. Now, the Clippers found themselves with a 3-2 series lead. Still, not that bad. In a seven game series, a good team will be able to make runs and possibly steal a game if their opponent were to not play as well as they should.
Then came Game 6. Through two plus quarters, it looked like a lock that the Clippers and Lakers were headed to a conference final showdown. The Clippers led 63-45 at the half. Their lead peaked at 68-49, and then all heck broke loose. From 10:10 left in the third, the Clippers would only manage to score 30 more points. Ultimately being outscored by the Nuggets 64-35 in the second half. From a 19 point lead in a series closeout game, to being forced to play a Game 7 in a matter of 20 game minutes, it sure seemed as if the tide had turned in the series.
Game 7 saw the Clippers get out to a 12 point lead in the first half and finished with a 56-54 lead at the half. All the Clippers needed to do was to avoid another 2nd half slump and the Lakers were next. However, the second half slump would continue to haunt the Clippers. Unable to stop the Nuggets in the second half and unable to score themselves, the Clippers gave away a 3-1 series lead to the Nuggets. This made the Nuggets the first team in NBA playoff history to win two series in the same playoffs when down 3-1.
A Game 7 is a game in which you need your superstars to push the team across the finish line. The Nuggets got 40 points from Jamal Murray, a triple-double by Nikola Jokic, and 14 points each from Jerami Grant and Gary Harris. Exactly what the Nuggets needed in a Game 7. In contrast, the Clippers got a whopping 14 points from Kawhi Leonard and 10 points from Paul George. The two players that the Clippers seemingly mortgaged the franchise’s future, provided 24 points in a must-win Game 7. This is not going to win your franchise many games, let alone an NBA Title.
Now the Nuggets get a Western Conference Finals showdown with the Lakers. The Nuggets will need to continue to get offensive outputs from Murray and Jokic. It would probably be in the Nuggets best interest not to go down 3-1 to the Lakers which have emphatically finished off the Portland Trailblazers and the Houston Rockets in Game 5. Looks like some fun offensive games are in store for the Western Conference Finals.