Coming off a hard-fought Game 7 win over the Utah Jazz, the Denver Nuggets were back on the court just two days later in Game 1 of the Western Conference semis against the LA Clippers.
Through the first quarter of the game, they looked to have kept the momentum going, locked up at 31-31 after 12 minutes, before a combination of the Clippers' offensive force and the Nuggets' tired legs, saw them go into the half trailing by 18 points.
Over the final 8:30 minutes of the second quarter, the Clippers blew the game open behind a 33-15 run, with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George accounting for 16 of those points.
The Clippers got whatever they wanted in the second, connecting on 12-of-17 from the field in that crucial run, while the Nuggets shot just 3-of-12. LA outscored the Nuggets 38-20 in the period on their way to a 120-97 win.
Nikola Jokic, who had his struggles on the defensive end as the Clippers outscored the Nuggets in the paint, 66-46, called for a much-improved showing on that end of the floor in Game 2.
"I mean they're a talented team, we need to fly around, we need to make them work for every basket," he said post-game.
"I think we didn't help our main defenders on Kawhi and Paul George. They had a lot of offensive rebounds, Marcus Morris had a lot of threes. I think in that second quarter, they built up a lead in like four possessions. In my mind, it's like that, but probably it's not like that."
The Nuggets have been one of the worst defensive teams in the post-season, allowing 120.6 points per 100 possessions through eight games. - the worst among the remaining playoff teams and 14th out of the 16 teams who qualified for the playoffs.
In Game 1, the Clippers shot 48-of-84 (57.1%) from the field and 10-of-24 (41.7%) from the 3-point line, scoring 69 points in the first half alone. While Jokic ended up on the end of a lot of those plays as the Clippers marched towards the rim with ease, the Nuggets as a whole will need to lift on the defensive end.
Mr. 94 Feet taking it all 94 feet.@NBAonTNT | @patbev21 pic.twitter.com/8DTdMNgb5D- LA Clippers (@LAClippers) September 4, 2020
Between Jerami Grant, Gary Harris, and Torrey Craig, the Nuggets have long-athletic defenders to patrol the perimeter, but against the high-powered Clippers wings, it's going to take a total team effort, especially in transition where the Clippers picked up plenty of easy buckets.
Sure, the Nuggets are coming off a grueling seven-game series, however, Jokic said that heavy legs weren't an excuse for their Game 1 performance.
"To be honest, I was not tired at all," he said.
After the first quarter, the Nuggets scored just 66 points the rest of the way, with Jokic scoring a team-high 15 on 6-of-14 shooting, while Jamal Murray recorded just 12 points on 5-of-15 from the field.
It's another short turnaround for the Nuggets, who will look to level the series in Game 2, scheduled for Saturday, September 5 at 9:00 p.m. ET.
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