While the Lakers and Rockets duked it out on one side of the Western Conference semifinals, the Denver Nuggets took on the Los Angeles Clippers on the other. The Clippers finished the regular season at 49-23 as the No. 2 seed. Reigning Finals MVP forward Kawhi Leonard and All-Star forward Paul George have led the charge. Leonard has averaged 27.1 points per game along with 7.1 rebounds but the real skill in his game lies in his defensive prowess, being able to effectively shut down some of the league’s best offensive stars with ease. George has averaged 21.5 points per game and 5.7 rebounds, a bit unimpressive in comparison to some of his previous years, but he still has nights where his prime form reemerges. The Clippers roster behind George and Leonard was efficiently filled with quality role players and stellar defenders, making them clear contenders and heavy favorites to win the title.
The Nuggets finished the regular season with a 46-27 record as the No. 3 seed. Center Nikola Jokic and shooting guard Jamal Murray have led Denver on their impressive title run. Jokic continues to dominate at every part of the game as he is a star defender and averages 19.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and seven assists with the best passing ability ever seen by a center in the history of the game. Murray is an upcoming star, who at the age of 23 averages 18.5 points, four rebounds and just under five assists per contest. The Nuggets have excellent ball movement skills and show that they could seriously challenge the Clippers.
During Game 1, the Clippers dominated all four quarters and came away with a 120-97 win. Not a single Nuggets player scored over 15 points, and they averaged less than 25% from beyond the arc as a squad. Leonard scored 29 points while George contributed 19 for the Clippers, with both playing impressive defense to prevent Murray and Jokic from getting in rhythm.
Denver, seemingly asleep in their first game of the series, came out to play ball in Game 2, taking a 44-25 lead by the end of the first quarter of action. Although the Clippers fought to make it a closer game, they never recovered from this deficit. The final score was a 110-101 for a Nuggets win. Throughout the contest Jokic dominated, racking up 26 points and 18 rebounds, while Murray contributed 27 points of his own towards the win.
Game 3 was the closest game yet, as both teams traded baskets in consecutive fashion, leaving the game tied with under two minutes in the contest. George closed out the game giving the Clippers the 113-107 win. During the win, Leonard hauled in 14 rebounds and scored 23 points, while George led the Clippers in scoring with 32 points.
With a defensive battle following their previous contest, Game 4 saw both teams rack up over 25 fouls each. The Clippers defensive effort seemed to get the better of the Nuggets, as throughout the game the Nuggets shot less than 40% from the field and only scored 22 points in the paint. Leonard scored 30 points, leading the Clippers to a 96-85 win and a 3-1 lead.
Facing a 3-1 deficit for the second time in their playoff run, the dog mentality really came out of the Nuggets in Game 5. The Clippers were up 12 points at halftime making the Nuggets appear to be on their way out. Something must’ve happened in the locker room at the half for Denver because a revitalized team stormed back onto the court and put Los Angeles in the rearview. The Nuggets outscored the Clippers by 17 in the remaining 30 minutes of action, securing the 111-105 win and game six. During the outing, Murray scored 26 points and the Nuggets shot 44% from the 3-point range.
The first half of Game 6 was once again all Clippers, as they went into the half with a 16 point lead. The Nuggets made a complete comeback in the third quarter, holding the Clippers to just 16 points. Once more the Nuggets forced the Clippers to try and close out in the fourth quarter, but a tired Leonard and discombobulated George couldn’t manage to rally the troops to close out Denver. Jokic and Micheal Porter Jr. took over and dominated the game’s closing minutes, giving the Nuggets the 111-98 win and creating a game seven. Jokic continued his dominance with 34 points, seven assists and 14 rebounds.
In the first half of Game 7, both teams traded basket for basket, as Los Angeles appeared to be taking a more balanced approach so as to not tire themselves out and lose in the fourth quarter once more. Their strategy worked against them, as the lack of pressure in the first half allowed Murray and Jokic to get in a rhythm and run away with the victory in the third quarter. Over the course of the entire second half, the Clippers offense disintegrated, as they managed to score a mere 33 points. Murray took advantage, scoring 40 points leading the Nuggets to a 104-89 win and a trip to the Western Conference Finals, stunning the Clippers.
The Nuggets and Lakers have already begun their series, with the Lakers taking Game 1 by a score of 126-114. In every series thus far, Jokic has been dominating the opposing teams’ center, but he has quite the opponent to face in Lakers hyper-athletic center Anthony Davis. Murray’s ability to pop off offensively will likely be a deciding factor in a highly anticipated Western Conference Finals.