Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.
Denver just got done coming back from a 3-1 deficit. They were just the 12th team ever to pull off the feat, and they were the first team since the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA finals. Now, they face down one of the NBA’s best teams in the LA Clippers. The Clippers are coming off a 4-2 series win over the Dallas Mavericks, and, if they’re fully on, they’ve looked like the NBA’s best team at multiple points throughout the year.
For Denver, they’re going to need their best defensive effort for this entire series. The Clippers trot out two great wing scorers in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Both of those guys play the exact same role that has given Denver trouble all year. Throw in Lou Williams, who has been one of the best off-the-bench scorers in the NBA over the past few seasons, and they have a lot of offensive firepower.
On offense, Jamal Murray is going to need to maintain his explosive play we saw throughout the last half of the first round. He gives Denver that second legitimate threat to alleviate the pressure on Nikola Jokic. Prior to the bubble, the two sides split the season series. One game was close, and the other wasn’t. Denver has the horses to keep up on offense, and, if they’re hot, it’s going to be fireworks nonstop.
Gary Harris Needs to Turn the Clock to 2017-18
In 2017, Gary Harris averaged over 17 points per game with impressive shooting numbers. His offense has regressed, but he brought a new level to this team’s defense in the last two games. The biggest area that mattered was with defending Donovan Mitchell. He’s quickness let him stay in front of Mitchell, and he was able to stay tight on jump shots that he had typically been given throughout the first four games. Midway through the fourth quarter, he’s still tight in Mitchell’s jersey, and he gets a block. They’re going to need that from him against the Clippers with the scoring abilities previously mentioned.
As I said, he averaged over 17 points in 2017-18, but that has fallen off tremendously. He averaged just over 10 points per game this season, and he scored a total of eight in the two games he played. They need him to be aggressive when cutting towards the basket, and he needs to hit his 3-point attempts. He’s a combined 1-of-7 from 3-point range in those two games. The Clippers scored at least 111 points in each of their six games against the Mavericks. Denver had three different games where they scored fewer than that, including two games in the 80-90 point range. If their defense isn’t fully shutting things down, they’ll need offense from everyone.
Jokic has to Dominate
Late in the game, the ball will be the hands of two players. It will be Jokic or Murray. They will initiate everything, and, when the clock is running down, the ball will go to them to make something happen. For Jokic, he needs to take advantage of situations that are presented to him. Against the Jazz, he would often defer when mismatches were given to him. The Clippers don’t have the same defensive center that Utah had in Rudy Gobert. Jokic needs to call for the ball early, similar to how he worked in the first quarter of Game 5. He got the ball in his hands, and he went to work.
On defense, Jokic needs to improve his defensive efforts. He’s not great moving laterally, and he can get beat around the basket. That area of his play needs to get better for this team to really compete. Unless they bring in another defender that can fill that role, he is the team’s main deterrent against shots at the rim. This team’s guard rotation just doesn’t do a great job of stopping ball penetration, which opens Jokic up to more work at the basket, which wears him down for the offensive end. If he can set the tone early around the cup, it can drastically alter a team’s game plan.
Step Up or Step Aside
Role players are going to be the difference maker for Denver in this series. Obviously if Jokic and Murray struggle, this series is over. If they play to their levels, they can keep things close. That’s when everyone else comes in. Michael Porter Jr. needs to play to the level we saw during the seeding games. He’s made it clear that he has a chip on his shoulder, and, when his offense is flowing, life becomes easier for everyone because of how difficult he is to defend.
Michael Porter Jr. said he never thought the Clippers would draft him with their two first-round picks.
MPJ said the Clippers doctor was the one who wrote the report on him:
“It’s going to be fun to play against them for sure.”
— Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717) September 2, 2020
The work of Jerami Grant will also enable a great level of success. I think we’ll see a greater dose of minutes for him in this series because of his ability to match up with Kawhi and George. He presents better size and athleticism than a player like Paul Millsap or Monte Morris. Similar to Harris, Grant is at his best when he’s attacking the rim. He’s a good spot-up shooter, but he has the athleticism to catch alley-oops over defenders. More minutes with him on the floor will put Denver in good situations. They’ll need all hands on deck to get this done.
The other role players need to do their work as well. If they can’t get that done, they’ll need to do what this section was all about. Either step up or step aside.
For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.