Denver Nuggets 97-120 Los Angeles Clippers
Fatigue and mental lapses would prove costly for the Nuggets as they couldn’t keep up with the Clippers after the opening 12 minutes, suffering a heavy 120-97 loss.
Nikola Jokić led the Nuggets with 15 points while Kawhi Leonard paced the Clippers with a dominant 29 points, three assists, two steals and a block.
The Nuggets will look to regroup in Game 2 on Saturday (7 p.m. MT, TNT).
"We're going to flush tonight," Paul Millsap said after the game. "We got to get guys rested and we got to come back with a better energy for the next game."
Here are the takeaways:
Tired legs and minds
Tuesday, the Nuggets wrapped up one of the most dramatic and physically draining series in franchise history. Less than 48 hours later, they had to suit up and take on a Clippers team that many have picked to win it all. While the coaches and players won’t make excuses for their Game 1 letdown, the reality is luck was not in their favor for the second-round opener.
"I think it [the fatigue] definitely played a part, there's no doubt," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "Their last game was Sunday. We had our last game on Tuesday night and didn't get to our hotel until midnight."
He added, "We were tired and tomorrow, we'll try to give them [the players] as much rest as we can and have a more energetic performance come Saturday night."
The Nuggets got off to a blistering start, shooting a superb 59.1 percent in the opening 12 minutes. Things started to unravel in the second quarter for Malone’s team. The Clippers applied pressure on defense and used that to spark an 8-2 run. Los Angeles would hold Denver to just 25 percent shooting in the second quarter. It was a deciding 12 minutes the Nuggets would never recover from.
Denver was outclassed in every stat that matters and shot just 25 percent from downtown on the night. The team also had 20 assists to 15 turnovers. The group will need to improve in those areas if they want to have any chance of pulling out a win in Game 2.
"There was too much one on one and not enough ball movement, player movement and random offense," Malone said.
Bad habits reemerge on defense
The Nuggets’ frontcourt was supposed to be one of the team’s advantages heading into its series against the Clippers. Denver was fifth in points in the paint scoring (49.8) during the regular season, while Los Angeles was 16th at 47.7. On Wednesday, the Nuggets struggled to defend or score in the paint, giving up a sizeable 66-40 margin in that area. That wasn’t the only area where the team struggled.
After holding the Jazz to 23.5 percent shooting from downtown Monday, the Nuggets’ struggles in defending the three-point line returned in Game 1 against the Clippers. Los Angeles shot 45 percent on threes during the first three quarters, with that percent dipping to 41.7 after both teams cleared their benches in the fourth.
"We got beat too easily at the point of attack," Malone explained. "We didn't give enough resistance with our help and when we did help, we didn't have the necessary people helping behind that. [It was] a chain reaction but your defense will always start with your one-on-one containment. We did not have that tonight."
Jerami’s strong first quarter
In a game that was decided by 23 points, there were few positives – if any. One area the Nuggets can potentially look toward is Jerami Grant’s strong showing in the first quarter.
The Nuggets finished the first quarter tied at 31 and a lot of it came down to Denver’s recent inclusion to the starting lineup. Grant opened the game, scoring 11 points in 10 on a perfect 4 of 4 shooting, including 3 of 3 behind the arc. If he hadn’t gotten in foul trouble, he likely would’ve added to that tally.
Though Grant would only score one more point, his performance early on could be something the Nuggets utilize more of moving forward.