Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
Nowhere to go but up…we hope
After the emotional roller coaster that was the seven game first round series against the Utah Jazz, the Denver Nuggets looked exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers. It ultimately led to a butt whooping at the abnormally large hands of Kawhi Leonard as the Nuggets dropped the contest by a margin of twenty three points. Now, Denver must bounce back to try to even the series in Game 2.
In order to do so they’ll need a better effort all around, and in particular from their key players. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray combined for twenty-seven points on twenty-nine shots while Michael Porter Jr’s playoff struggles hit a new low. Meanwhile Leonard got whatever he wanted, Paul George chipped in a tidy and efficient 19 points and Marcus Morris morphed into Steph Curry from three point range. Luckily for the Nuggets, it was only game 1 so only the chances of them sweeping the Clippers were vanquished. Still, they looked severely over matched. A solid response that leads to a victory will be just what the doctor ordered.
Who: Denver Nuggets (0-1) vs Los Angeles Clippers (1-0)
When: 7:00 PM MDT
Where: The Bubble. Orlando, FL.
How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless its the romanticized 18th-century type. TNT, League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Sneak into the bubble with an Adam Silver mask. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.
Rival Blog: 213 Hoops
Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Ivica Zubac
Listen, the Nuggets aren’t stopping Kawhi. It doesn’t matter how long Jerami Grant is or how strong of a defender Gary Harris is, Kawhi gets what Kawhi wants. Denver’s going to have to not get beat by George (and certainly need to do a better job on Morris) and they have to take advantage of the biggest matchup that tilts in their favor. That’s Jokic vs Zubac. In game 1 you can argue Ivica got the better of the Joker but historically Nikola has dominated this matchup. In what has been a quiet but effective playoffs so far, Nikola has yet to truly assert himself like he did in the postseason last year. In order to offset what Leonard is going to do on the other end Denver needs their best player to be every bit as unstoppable.
Key thing to watch for: Who is going to step up?
In game 1 Harris and Grant had a nice first quarter, Monte Morris had some nice moments as well, but the Nuggets have been struggling to get big time contributions from their role players all playoffs. Denver survived their series with Utah on the back of Murray going full supernova, but they can’t expect that to happen now that he’s going to have likes of George and Leonard on him the whole series. Jamal has to play better than he did in game one to be sure and for the Nuggets to win they need more help in general. I look to Porter. He has taken a lot of licks in the playoffs thus far but the fact remains that the Clippers, the Jazz, the Dream Team…none of them can guard him if he’s on. MPJ just needs to breathe, stop putting so much pressure on himself over the perceived slight from LA’s medical staff and do what he does best: score.
Opening thought: this is far from over
Flush game 1, just flush it. That was a schedule loss as much as a loss can be a schedule loss in the bubble. Like I said in the open, the only thing the Nuggets have lost for good is the chance to sweep which we all know they weren’t going to do anyways. That being said, the series is two straight losses away from being effectively done and it’s naive to think that the Nuggets could repeat a 3-1 series deficit comeback against a much tougher opponent as well. Tonight’s game is important, it’s not quite a must win, but it will go a long way to proving that Denver can compete with the Clippers. I expect the Nuggets to play with urgency and if they can snag a win this series will be well on it’s way to being a long one.