Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images
The Nuggets look to continue the Clippers collapse as they take the court with a Conference Finals berth on the line.
As much as this year has been unlike any other, the Nuggets are back in the same situation they found themselves in about one year ago, with four quarters standing between them and the Western Conference Finals.
The Nuggets aren’t in unfamiliar territory for these playoffs — this is their sixth elimination game so far, having knocked off the Utah Jazz in seven games after facing a 3-1 deficit. This series seemed like it would be over early after the Nuggets dropped Game Three and Four, especially with the way they lost Game Four. Their rookie forward Michael Porter Jr. was sounding off to the media about the need for the offense to share the ball more, and things looked bleak. But when the Nuggets felt trapped by the Clippers, the Clippers were really trapped by the Nuggets.
Denver has rallied to force a Game Seven, winning their last game thanks to a dominant second half that saw them outscore Los Angeles 64-35 in the second half. The offense found their groove, they got a ton of stops in a row, and they put themselves in a situation Pwhere winner takes all and advances, while the loser packs their bags and goes home.
Who: Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Clippers
What: Game Seven!
When: 8:00 PM ET
How to Watch: ESPN
Rival Blog: Clips Nation
Injuries: Just Will Barton’s knee!
Three Things to Watch
How do they survive the barrage? If there’s one thing that the Nuggets can definitely say they have an advantage on for this game, it’s elimination game experience. While Kawhi Leonard has a championship win from last season, that was with a veteran team that had spent a lot of time together. Leonard drew praise for his game-winning shot against the 76ers in the conference semi-finals, but he also took 39 shots in that game to get to 41 points. If Kawhi Leonard takes 39 field goal attempts, and only eight free throw attempts, you have to feel good about that if you’re a Nuggets fan, right?
The Clippers are absolutely going to come out with an intensity and focus that the Nuggets probably haven’t seen yet this series. Paul George and Leonard are going to be trying to end every Nuggets offensive possession with a turnover or missed shot. The Nuggets need to come out with a scheme that helps limit turnovers while being patient to generate good shots. Trust Jokic and Murray with the ball, and hope they get those good looks for Grant, Millsap, and Harris to fall. It’ll be that simple.
How do they get the offense going? This game could be a real defensive grind for both teams. They need to try to get Murray going downhill, where he can use his agility and balance to finish mid-range jumpers or convert shots at the rim. They need to stretch the defense with Jokic converting 3-point attempts into makes, to draw the defense away from the rim for Gary Harris and Paul Millsap. If they can set powerful screens, make decisive cuts, and clean passes, they should be able to put points on the board. They’ve overcome big deficits lately, but they can’t put themselves in that situation in this game.
Can MPJ play a clean game? The turnovers that MPJ makes — dribbling the ball off his knee, going 1×2 in transition — can’t happen in this game. The Nuggets cannot afford to waste offensive possessions with MPJ coughing the ball up. If he dribbles against George or Leonard, hold your breath. If MPJ is able to get four or five offensive rebounds, splash home a few 3-pointers, and get to the free throw line four time, the Nuggets could be in a position where they send another team home after being down 3-1. Would you expect anything less for 2020?
I can’t do it. I predict we’ll all be very nervous until the final whistle.