[caption id="attachment_314361" align="aligncenter" width="2240"] (Garrett Ellwood | NBAE via Getty Images)
Good morning, folks. The Clippers have Jamal Murray figured out. Let's talk NBA Bubble.
Clippers bury Nuggets into 3-1 hole
The Denver Nuggets pulled off an epic comeback in the first round, but this is a whole different animal. The Los Angeles Clippers--who are no Utah Jazz--have been the clear-cut victors of this series through just the first three games and they proved it once again during a critical Game 4. Behind 30 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists from Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers never trailed on Wednesday and held Denver to under 40 percent shooting for the night to go up 3-1 in the series.
From the opening tip, it felt like the Nuggets were in store for a swift beatdown. L.A. quickly jumped out to a double-digit lead a little over halfway through the first quarter and eventually ballooned that advantage to 26-12 after the first 12 minutes of action. Denver shot just 5-17 from the floor, missed all eight attempts from beyond the arc, and turned the ball over six times in the period. Had it not been for the heroic second quarter from Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr., the Clips might have run away with this game by 30-plus. Porter Jr. dropped 13 points in the second period alone, helping charge an incredible stretch that brought the Nugs to within just eight points at the intermission. Two quick triples out of the break and a pair for Denver free-throws actually allowed them to tie the game up at 48 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter, but the Clippers blew the doors wide open with a 21-5 response. Not even seven minutes of game time later, the Nuggets were down by 16 points and ultimately lost 96-85.
For the third time in four outings, the Clippers incredible length and pressure on defense gave Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray
some serious fits. Not counting his 27-point outing in a Game 2 win, he's averaging just 14.6 points per game while shooting a mere 34 percent from the field to go along with nine total turnovers in Denver's three losses. But when the Clippers can take turns throwing high-level on-ball defenders such as Leonard, Patrick Beverley, and Paul George on Murray, it's been damn-near impossible for the former Wildcat to find any consistency when he's being hounded for 40-plus minutes every game. We talked about this during the Nuggets previous series against Utah, but Denver was at it's best when Murray was constantly attacking the basket. The Clippers are completely taking away and denying any action that might lead to Murray creating a play. He'll go 4-5 minute stretches without so much as looking at the basket. Murray was on the court for 44 minutes in Game 4, the most he's played in a playoff game this year. It's not going to get any easier.
L.A. appears more than willing to let Nikola Jokic beat them by himself. And while the big man has actually done an impressive job (posting four-game averages of 24.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per outing), he can't beat this Clippers team without Murray's production. In reality, the Nuggets just need someone else to step up who can help take the pressure off of Murray and Jokic. Porter Jr. did that briefly in Game 4, but then subtweeted his coaching staff
in the press conference after the game. The Clippers can close this one out on Friday and I think many--myself included--expect them to do just that.
Toronto needs 2 overtimes to force a Game 7
The fans deserved a Game 7 from this series and that's exactly what they got.
Game 6 between the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics was everything you want out of a high-stakes playoff game: drama, chippiness, top-notch shooting, and unmatchable energy levels with the best players on the floor. The Raptors were climbing an uphill battle throughout the majority of the evening but finally began to hit shots down the stretch as they survived two overtimes to steal a 125-122 win, forcing a Game 7 in the process.
Let's breakdown the distribution of minutes from Game 6 and you go ahead and guess who needed an extra hour or two of sleep this morning:
Pascal Siakam: 54 minutes
Kyle Lowry: 53
Fred VanVleet: 50
OG Anunoby: 49
Norman Powell: 38
*Lowry played the entirety of the second half.*
Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown: 51 minutes
Marcus Smart: 51
Daniel Theis: 49
*The same five Celtics played the final 22 minutes of the game clock without a single substitution.*
Despite exhaustion on both sides, the game got better as the night rolled along. Toronto trailed in the fourth quarter, then again in the first overtime, and once again in the second before a massive three-point play from Norman Powell with 39 seconds left gave the Raptors a four-point lead. Jayson Tatum would come back down the floor to drill a huge triple with only six seconds left, but more free-throws from Powell iced the game away.
The Raptors employed a "box-and-one" defensive set on Kemba Walker--similar to what they did against Steph Curry in the 2019 NBA Finals--and it worked to the desired result: Walker was held to just five points all night. But it wasn't the defense that saved the Raptors late, they simply began hitting the shots they were missing early in the game. Toronto started Game 6 shooting just 9-32 from the floor but still managed to shoot over 43 percent throughout the affair, including 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Game 7 is Friday night. I know Jack Pilgrim will be watching.
Series standings from Wednesday
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
(2) Raptors tied with (3) Celtics 3-3
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
(2) Clippers lead (3) Nuggets 3-1
[table id=587 /]
TONIGHT IN THE BUBBLE
7:00 (TNT): Lakers (Davis, Rondo)
@ Rockets [LAL leads 2-1]