The Los Angeles Lakers will play the winner of the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers and it will be must-watch TV on Tuesday.
I do not blame Lake Show Life for jumping the gun on a Los Angeles Lakers-Los Angeles Clippers Western Conference Finals matchup. Only the 1985 Kansas City Royals ever came back from consecutive 3-1 deficits in sports history. The Royals play baseball. No one has ever achieved the feat in the NBA.
These articles were based on the presumption the Clippers would wake up from their temporary slumber and dispatch a young Nuggets squad.
- 3 reasons why the Los Angeles Lakers will easily get past the Clippers
- Goodbye Rockets, bring on L.A. Clippers! 3 Lessons
Wrong! The game still has to be played on the court. To be fair, it even happened to certified Los Angeles Lakers’ GOAT Magic Johnson.
Magic was, again, not the only one to wrongly assume Game 6’s outcome. I thought the Clippers would win Game 5 or 6 fairly easily.
Our predictions made sense. On paper, the Clippers are amazing. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are top-10 caliber players. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell take turns winning the NBA’s 6th man of the year award. The rest of their team is comprised of proven veteran talent and underrated young players (think Landry Shamet).
The coaching is solid. Head coach Doc Rivers and assistant coach Tyronn Lue each won a championship as a coach. Assistant coach Sam Cassell won back-to-back titles in his first two seasons as a player on the Houston Rockets.
People are criticizing Doc Rivers for his rotations. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George each played 40 minutes. What is Doc supposed to do if nobody else can make a shot? Suit up? Play Lue or Cassell?
Even if the Clippers are dialed in, Denver presents a whole host of problems for them.
- They have no answer for Nicola Jokic (who had 34 points in Game 6)
- Denver shot 54% from the field and 48% from three-point range
- Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are not afraid of Kawhi or PG’s on-ball defense
Even if Denver is a bad matchup, their lackluster second-half performances cannot be explained away. The Clippers’ woes are mostly internal. I was shocked when I saw the box score.
- Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined for 58 points (everyone else scored 40 points)
- The Clippers shot 41% from the field and 37% from three-point range
- Nobody had more than 5 assists (the Clippers were out-assisted 26-20)
It is not a coincidence they blew consecutive double-digit leads in Game 5 and 6. Their fitness is questionable. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell typically close games coming off the bench, but have not had the same kind of impact in the bubble.
This has not happened often:
Notice the clock. This happened in the second quarter. Their offense grinds to a halt in the fourth quarter, devolving into Kawhi doing his best James Harden impression (not bad, but hardly ideal).
Without Lou Will and Harrell’s scoring punch, the Clippers struggle to score points, especially in the fourth quarter when their bat signal is supposed to be turned on. They average around a combined 40 points per game in the regular season. In the playoffs, they combined for 19 points in Game 6 and 10 points in Game 5.
To be fair, both men had deaths in the family shortly prior to the season restarting. Personal trouble is a very real factor in play when enduring professional struggles. It is extremely difficult to enter the bubble and be in NBA playoff shape just in time for the first round.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are doing everything they can, as evidenced by the box score, but only Kawhi and PG stepping up cannot beat five players giving it their all.
They can dominate games even when on autopilot.
Their less-talented teammates do not have that luxury. One has to question whether Kawhi and PG’s “DNP-rest” mentality is affecting their teammates’ play.
Patrick Beverley, their defensive stopper, is playing through a nagging calf injury. A calf injury is one of the worst possible for on-ball defense. He needs to be able to use his calf muscles to quickly change direction when defending cutters and navigating through a maze of ball screens.
See below. Mason Plumlee set a vicious screen on Beverly to free up Jamal Murray. Beverley did his best but it still was not enough.
Reggie Jackson was benched for some reason. He went from starting to not playing at all. I would at least give Jackson an extended opportunity to give them a spark off the bench. Beverly’s on-ball defense is not as valuable when the offense is run through Jokic anyway.
Even if the Clippers have their head on straight, there is no stopping Jokic’s wrong-footed fadeaway. Was this Nikola Jokic or Dirk Nowitzki?
Rising star Jamal Murray is even dunking on Paul George.
(Sorry Playoff P! The person behind Denver’s Twitter account must not be a PG fan.)
Both teams are maxing out their stars, as they should: Kawhi and PG played for a combined 80 minutes, Jokic played 40, Murray played 41, and Gary Harris shockingly had 42. Harris, Denver’s defensive stopper, just returned from injury!
Game 7 is ultimately going to depend on which star takes over the game last. If I had to bet my life on it, I would bet Kawhi and PG have transcendent defensive performances to propel the Clippers past a pesky Nuggets squad.
Kawhi uses every last bit of his length and strength to stop Jokic. PG finally reprises his Playoff P moniker and knocks down key shots to befall the pesky Nuggets, whilst smothering Murray with his length and footwork.
Lake Show Life, we get our dream Los Angeles Lakers-Los Angeles Clippers Western Conference Finals after all — if the Clippers don’t choke.
Prediction: Clippers win 112-103