The Denver Nuggets outscored the LA Clippers 38-25 in the fourth quarter to force a crucial game six on Sunday with the Clippers up 3-2.
Well LA Clippers fans, I think we have seen this story before.
Going into game five, the Clippers were up 3-1 on a Denver Nuggets and primed to advance to their first conference finals in franchise history.
At one point, Kawhi Leonard and company led by 16 points and had Denver on the ropes, but the Clippers squandered that lead after Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic shot lights out in the second half to lead the Nuggets back in the fourth and virtually run away with a game five victory.
Tons of factors contributed to this loss for the LA Clippers.
For starters, when you are up by 16 points, you have to keep the opposing team on the ropes and close things out. This loss hurts even more because the Los Angeles Lakers are expected to close things out against the Houston Rockets on Saturday, meaning the Clippers lose an extra day or two of rest and have to still focus on closing out a 3-1 lead for the first time since 2006.
Also, Doc Rivers must be aware of who needs to be in the game and make better use of substitutions and at what times he uses them. Montrezl Harrell should not have stayed in the fourth quarter as long as he had. Jokic poses a clear problem for Harrell that Ivica Zubac can usually handle, but Jokic was able to get hot against Harrell and keep it rolling through the fourth quarter.
Lou Williams didn’t play well either, shooting 2-10 and for some reason, Rivers elected to reinsert Williams into the game rather than keeping Patrick Beverley in the game down four in crunch time. Despite being -7 from the floor, Beverley is a much better defender than Williams and was making more of an impact on both sides of the floor, but Rivers’ move ultimately hurt him and the team, in the end, leading to the loss.
Another role in this loss was Denver’s role players outplaying the role players from the Clippers. Millsap posted 17 points, Monte Morris posted 12 points and Jerami Grant posted 10 points while Williams, Harrell, and Marcus Morris combined for an underwhelming 22 points.
Despite this loss, and this is the optimistic side of me, the Clippers are still up 3-2 on the Nuggets and were able to close out the Dallas Mavericks in the same situation in the first round. Yes, the Clippers have a history of blowing 3-1 leads, winning only one in the last 50 seasons, but this is a much different team than those of old, so expect the Clippers to come out of the gates hot in game six and close things out against Denver.
To do so, Williams and Harrell have to play much better and the Clippers cannot take their feet off the gas and have to bury the Nuggets instead of letting them hang around as they did on Friday night.
It will be interesting to see how both teams adjust in game six, but if the Clippers squander another 3-1 lead and head to a game seven, the concern level will rise. For now, Clippers Nation must relax and hope for the best but temper expectations with the reality that game six is on the horizon.