Game seven, the two words that immediately send chills down the spines of Clipper faithful.
Blowing a 3-1 lead isn’t new for the Los Angeles Clippers. The franchise previously blew a 3-1 lead in 2014 to the Houston Rockets.
On Tuesday night history repeated itself with the Denver Nuggets upsetting the title contenders 104-89 sending the basketball world into a frenzy.
It is absolutely shocking and unexplainable that a team with so much talent, legit title contenders, two elite NBA stars, arguably the deepest bench in the league, along with one of the best coaching staffs in the NBA get bounced in this fashion.
“Just disappointed,” said Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers postgame. Rivers was at the helm of the 2014-15 team that squandered the same 3-1 lead and Rivers has yet to make it past the Western Conference Semis with the Clippers organization.
“I’m the coach and I’ll take any blame for it. We didn’t meet our expectations, clearly, because if we had, in my opinion, we’d still be playing,” said Rivers.
It makes sense that the only team in NBA history to complete two 3-1 series comebacks in the same playoff run defeated the Clippers. “I’m not going to make an excuse. Denver beat us. Denver was the better team,” said Rivers.
It can’t go without being mentioned that the Clippers traded their franchise cornerstone Shai Gilegous-Alexander, veteran forward Danilo Gallinari, and unprotected first-round picks in 2022, 2024, 2026, and pick swaps in 2023 and 2025 for Paul George who scored 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting in the most important game of his playoff career.
“It’s the first time I’ve been in that situation where we’re expected to win,” said George, who is a free agent after next season. “But you know, it is what it is. It’s no cop out. Fact of the matter is, we didn’t live up to that expectation.”
Once Kawhi Leonard and Paul George teamed up together in LA the Clippers were hailed as favorites for the title along with the Lakers. More importantly, the Clippers were praised for their defense, arguably the best in the NBA with the defensive duo of Leonard and George.
The duo failed to meet their defensive expectations allowing Jamal Murray to score 40 points with six made threes along with Nikola Jokic putting together a triple-double clinic with 16 points 22 rebounds and 13 assists.
“They’ve been making shots, playing at a faster pace, and they got free tonight,” said George. “I thought Jamal got free. Jokic made big plays, kept the ball alive, big rebounds. You know, they play well. They played well to close the game out tonight.”
The Clippers entered halftime with a two-point lead 56-54. The second half was won by the Nuggets 50-33 showing heart, grit, and determination.
“We knew that we had them against the wall,” said Murray. “They weren’t shooting well and we knew that the looks we wanted in the first half didn’t drop and we just made them in the second.”
Shots not dropping for the Clippers was the nail in their coffin. The Nuggets shot 49% from the field while the Clippers couldn’t buy a bucket shooting 38%.
LA went on a mind-blowing shooting drought in the fourth quarter scoring their first points with 5 mins left in the quarter which is unacceptable of a roster possessing guys of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s caliber.
“So proud. All the guys committed, believed in each other, and never got down in light of all the noise outside of this series that we had no chance,” said Nuggets Head Coach Mike Malone after a gritty win on his birthday.
The Clippers season is cut shorter than expected with a lot of lingering questions heading into the offseason. The Denver Nuggets advance to the Western Conference Finals taking on the Los Angeles Lakers.