The Denver Nuggets had no business being in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Clippers. Down 3-1 for the second straight series, the Nuggets won their 6th straight elimination game in this postseason and shocked the Los Angeles Clippers in a 104-89 blowout to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Kawhi Leonard, the biggest free agent signing in franchise history at three years and $103 million, had yet another off shooting night in Game 7, scoring just 14 points on 6-of-22 shooting from the field. He only decided to join the Clippers if they traded for a star like Paul George— who they acquired from Oklahoma City for two really good players, five first round draft picks and two pick swaps— scored just 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Even crazier, the duo combined to take one free throw in the entire game, showing a total lack of purpose and urgency to get to the rim and draw contact.
Los Angeles shot 37.6% from the field in the game and 9-for-35 from three. That’s just not gonna get it done in basically any game, and certainly not in a win-or-go-home contest despite forcing 20 Nuggets turnovers.
Denver got the win in Game 7 on the backs of stars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Jokic put up an incredible performance, with a triple-double of 16 points, 22 rebounds and 13 assists. His ability to pass out of L.A. double teams and find open teammates to knock down open shots was an enormous difference maker in this pivotal game. Murray had a game-high 40 points on 15-of-26 shooting, including 20 in the second quarter, to only trail 56-54 at halftime.
With the Clips up seven after a minute in the third quarter, Denver went on a 24-9 run over the following nine-plus minutes and went into the fourth up 82-74 after a Monte Morris buzzer jumper, outscoring L.A. 28-18 in the quarter. Then the Nuggets scored the first seven points of the fourth to go up 15 on a Murray 3-pointer 89-74. It took 2:33 for L.A. to even score in the final period and an astounding 7:02 to make a field goal in the fourth quarter with its season on the line, trying to avoid an all-time choke job in the series.
L.A. managed just 33 second half points and was outscored 22-15 in the fourth, an unreal choke job by the Clippers, a team that didn’t really seem to want to win this game and face the Lakers in the conference finals. The lack of urgency, hunger and drive this team showed in Game 7 was simply astounding.
Los Angeles should not have been playing in Game 7. Up 19 with 22 minutes left in Sunday’s Game 6, Denver came storming back and won by 13. This was after the Nuggets came back from down 16 in Game 5.
With the loss, a season with championship aspirations fell way short of all-time high expectations for the Clippers, which still hasn’t reached the conference finals as a franchise. I spoke with Shaquille O’Neal on Monday, and he explained how Los Angeles kept letting Denver hang around in this series.
“You can’t get cute,” O’Neal said. “When you’re up 3-1, sometimes you think the next game’s gonna be easier. And then you lose Game 5 and you start getting tight. And then you go into Game 6 really tight and your game plan doesn’t work.”
All the pressure was on the Clippers, and they failed miserably to live up to that moment.
“They weren’t supposed to be there,” Shaq said. “You already heared everybody talking about Lakers vs Clippers Western Conference Finals. So if you count me out, I’m gonna be very, very loose too.”
Montrezl Harrell, the NBA’s 6th Man of the Year, led the Clippers in scoring with 16 points. JaMychal Green had 11 but none of L.A.’s other role players cracked double figures in scoring. But it was a dereliction of duty for the All-Star duo of Leonard and George, which is the opposite of how Denver’s stars came through in Game 7.
The Nuggets got 14 points each from Gary Harris and Jerami Grant, who shot a combined 11-for-21 from the field.
Los Angeles came into the season as title favorites, but jelling together with a new roster proved even tougher with players out via injury throughout the season. It also didn’t help when multiple players had to leave the Orlando bubble for various reasons.
The Clippers, like the Milwaukee Bucks, now have to worry about the future of their own stars. Leonard and George can leave after next season, one of many questions for a team that fell so woefully short of their championship aspirations. What a gutting and shocking defeat that deprived the basketball world of the Battle For Los Angeles we were all looking forward to.