After a hard-fought series with the Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Clippers maintained their momentum in their first game of the second round.
L.A. defeated the Denver Nuggets 120-97 in Thursday's Game 1 of their Western Conference second-round series at Walt Disney World Resort. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Marcus Morris Sr. led the way for the Clippers, who continued their head-to-head success after winning two of three during the regular season against Denver.
The Nuggets had five players in double figures, but it wasn't enough to overcome the powerhouse Clippers a mere two days after Denver defeated the Utah Jazz in a Game 7.
Notable Player Stats
- Kawhi Leonard, F, LAC: 29 PTS, 3 AST, 2 STL, 12-of-16 FG
- Paul George, F, LAC: 19 PTS, 7 REB, 4 AST, 2 STL
- Marcus Morris Sr., F, LAC: 18 PTS, 5 REB, 2 STL, 4-of-5 3PT
- Montrezl Harrell, F, LAC: 15 PTS
- Nikola Jokic, C, DEN: 15 PTS, 3 AST, 3 REB
- Jamal Murray, G, DEN: 12 PTS, 6 AST, 3 REB
Kawhi Puts on Show, PG-13 and Marcus Morris Sr. Provide Support
The story of the first round from the Clippers' perspective was George's inconsistent play.
After all, he looked nothing like a six-time All-Star in Games 2, 3 and 4, although he was excellent in Game 5 as L.A. seized the momentum for good against Luka Doncic and the Mavs. That up-and-down play put George under the spotlight heading into the second round, and he was steady against the Nuggets with his wing defense, rebounding and secondary scoring.
Still, it was Kawhi's show.
Leonard led the way from the start by attacking the basket, mixing in his unstoppable mid-range jumpers over smaller defenders and challenging Denver shooters on the other end. When the Nuggets built some momentum and pulled within 14 in the third quarter, he responded with a pull-up, two free throws, an assist on a Morris three and another pull-up.
Just like that, the lead was back over 20 as he provided another reminder of his ability to take over a game at a moment's notice with his individual brilliance.
It was far from a solo effort, though, as Morris took advantage of the openings created by the attention Leonard drew and found his stroke from deep.
It was the type of secondary scoring that makes Los Angeles almost impossible to counter, especially when Leonard is on top of his game. The Clippers appear to be hitting their stride, which is concerning news for the rest of the Western Conference.
Nuggets Don't Have Firepower to Take Down Clips on Short Rest
There wasn't a better show in the first round than the battle between Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell.
The two guards put on a scoring exhibition, matching each other shot for shot in crunch time and making history in the process. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the pair combined for 475 points, which was the most by opposing players in a series in league history and surpassed the 463 Jerry West and John Havlicek scored in 1969.
It was fair to assume the seven-game clash took something out of the Nuggets, and head coach Michael Malone said he gave his "gassed" team a "mental day" on Wednesday, per Kendra Andrews of The Athletic.
It was probably going to take more than just a single day off to take down the mighty Clippers.
The return of Patrick Beverley to the lineup meant Denver had to deal with him hounding its ball-handlers as well as Leonard and George providing length on the wings to bother outside shooters.
The Clippers simply are not a conducive matchup for any team that may be somewhat tired, and Denver didn't have enough to compete. Murray fell well short of the 50-point mark he reached twice against Utah, and Nikola Jokic was unable to facilitate enough offense to match L.A.'s scoring depth.
Game 2 of the series is Saturday at 9 p.m. ET.