The Clippers blew another big lead and will now face a Game 7
By Jasmyn Wimbish CBS Sports
For the second-straight game, the Denver Nuggets overcame another huge deficit to fight back and win the game in a 111-98 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers to force a Game 7. The Nuggets were down by as many as 19 points early in the third quarter, but went on a 17-0 run, and outscored the Clippers 30-16 in the third quarter to claw back and regain the lead. In a must-win situation for Denver, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray responded well to the challenge and put all the pressure on the Clippers to close out the game, which they were unable to do.
Jokic finished the game with 34 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists, while shooting a ridiculous 59.1 percent from the field, and going 4-of-6 from 3-point range. He hit back-to-back 3s with nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to increase Denver’s lead to seven points and L.A. was never able to recover.
This is the second consecutive game that the Clippers have failed to close out the series, and the second-straight game that L.A. has given up a sizable lead only to lose. The Clippers will have to figure out quickly what went wrong in this game, otherwise, they could be packing their bags on Tuesday after a Game 7 against the Nuggets.
Here are four takeaways from Game 6.
1. The Nuggets just won’t go away
Denver looked down and out after falling behind 3-1 in this series against L.A. The Clippers looked like the dominant team we expected them to be through the first four games of this series, and the Nuggets just looked outmatched. In Game 5, the Clippers looked like they would close out the game and advance to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history, but then Denver overcame a 16-point deficit to win that game to force a Game 6. Going into today’s game, the Clippers were an eight-point favorite to close out the series, and through the first half of play, it looked like they could start preparing for the Lakers. Well, we’ve seen this story before…
After getting out to a 19-point lead in the third quarter, the Clippers proceeded to completely squander it in the second half, allowing the Nuggets to outscore them 30-16 in the third quarter alone, and allowing the team to shoot 60 percent from the field. Give credit where it’s due, though, Denver tightened up defensively, and got stop-after-stop to get back into this game, resulting in L.A. shooting an abysmal 20 percent from the field in the third quarter.
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Nuggets had all the momentum in the world to close this game out. Jokic was hitting absurd shots from deep, and wacky one-legged jumpers from mid-range, it almost seemed like a video game simulation. Jamal Murray, who took a hard fall early in the second half, overcame that and finished the afternoon with 21 points, five rebounds and five assists. One beautiful play he made, where he faked out Paul George to lean into a screen, only to then spin around and go the opposite direction and elevate for the dunk was just beautifully executed and encapsulated just how great things were going for Denver today.
The Nuggets played with nothing to lose, despite it being a must-win game for them, and came out on top. Now, for the second series in a row, Denver will face a Game 7, but this time a trip to the Western Conference Finals is within reach for the first time since 2009.
2. Nikola Jokic was the best player on the floor in this game
While Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were out there, Jokic looked far and away like the best player on the floor. George finished the game with 33 points and five steals, but was also a team-worst -23. Leonard, who had 25 points, eight rebounds, five assists and a pair of great steals, didn’t look as dominant as we’ve seen him be in the playoffs and had a few costly turnovers late in the game.
Jokic, though, looked absurd, but then again, he’s been doing this all series long. The big man from Serbia is averaging 25 points against the Clippers, and has gotten pretty much anything he wants against both Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell. His late-game efforts to nail shot-after-shot in a high-pressure situation was essential for the Nuggets to win this game, and he showed why he’s such a special player, not just with his scoring but his passing as well.
What’s even more remarkable, is after today’s game, Jokic is now averaging 27 points, 11.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists in elimination games, he’s also 6-1 when facing elimination, something that should be incredibly encouraging for Denver heading into Tuesday’s Game 7.
3. Doc Rivers overplaying Montrezl Harrell is truly puzzling
Something that has been truly puzzling throughout the entirety of the postseason, but was even more apparent in today’s game, was the lack of impact Montrezl Harrell made while on the floor. In the last two games, Harrell has a plus/minus of -29, while Zubac is a +27. Those are stark differences, and while Zubac is getting a majority of the minutes at center, Rivers’ decision to keep Harrell out there on the floor for stretches of time on Sunday was head scratching.
He finished the game with five points, two turnovers and one rebound, and often looked out of place and chaotic on the court. Part of Harrell’s strength is the intensity he brings to this team and the physical nature he plays with, but when he’s not being used in the pick-and-roll with Lou Williams, his impact on offense is greatly diminished, especially because his game doesn’t extend that fair outside of the post. It even forced Rivers to go small for a period of time in the fourth quarter, with JaMychal Green — who finished with 11 points — at center, just to spread the floor some more, but it didn’t work. As good as Harrell was in the regular season, remember he was just named Sixth Man of the Year, he’s been a shell of himself in the postseason, and it’s forced the Clippers to figure out just how to use him when the game is on the line.
4. The Clippers curse is rearing its ugly head
The Clippers have never made the Western Conference finals. While for the better part of this franchise’s existence there haven’t been many opportunities for them to make it that far, in the past nine years this team has made the postseason all but once, and have never made it past the second round. To make matters even worse, there has been a handful of times where the Clippers were up in a series, only to lose. In fact, for a five-year period between 2013-2017, the Clippers became the first team in league history to blow a series lead in five-straight postseason appearances. Most notable among them, blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Houston Rockets in 2015 in the second round.
Now the Clippers are in the same situation again, this time against Denver. L.A. was up 3-1 in this series, and now finds itself facing a Game 7, having not played well for four whole quarters in the last two games. The players are different, but the issue still remains, the Clippers struggle to get over that hump to reach the conference finals. They’ll have one more shot to get there on Tuesday but will need to play significantly better on both ends of the floor for a chance to play the Lakers in the next round.