Kawhi Leonard and rested Clippers dominate weary Nuggets in Game 1 win

Kawhi Leonard and rested Clippers dominate weary Nuggets in Game 1 win
The moment Denver closed out its seven-game first-round series against Utah on Tuesday night, the Nuggets’ recovery began.

Coming back from a 3-1 deficit had left them exhausted physically and drained emotionally, and with less than 48 hours to prepare for the second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers, coach Mike Malone ordered little to no physical activity Wednesday.

The Clippers were to be feared. They had closed out their own first-round series against Dallas with authority. And yet, they weren’t infallible. As their own coach, Doc Rivers, had observed, it wasn’t until a mid-series jolt against the Dallas Mavericks that the Clippers’ intensity fully appeared.

When Malone left a shootaround Thursday morning, “I walked off that court this morning with a good vibe that our guys were excited,” he said before tipoff. “That we have energy.”

Fatigue won’t be an issue following Game 1. By the fourth quarter of an eventual 120-97 victory, the Clippers’ advantage was so lopsided and its rout so decisive that there was no need for Denver’s starters to play at all.

After leaving the first quarter tied at 31, with each team shooting 59 per cent, a swarming, focused Clippers defence held Denver to only 36 points during its next 24 minutes. The stretch allowed Los Angeles’ lead to swell to 29.

Before tipoff, Rivers said that the challenge posed by superb Dallas guard Luka Doncic hadn’t necessarily given the Clippers a leg up in defending Denver guard Jamal Murray, who’d averaged more than 31 points a game in the first round and twice dropped 50 points against Utah.

“It just gets tougher each round,” he said.

And yet it looked anything but.

Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points in his 32 minutes, making 12 of his 16 shots in a clinical display of mid-range marksmanship.

Marcus Morris Sr. continued his torrid post-season shooting with 18 points. And with starting centre Ivica Zubac holding his counterpart, Nikola Jokic, to just 15 points, and Patrick Beverley and Leonard corralling Murray in waves — he finished with just 12 points in 33 minutes —the Clippers cruised.

They produced a 24-9 run in the second quarter to lead by 18 at halftime. Their 17-2 run in the third quarter forced Denver to raise its white flag and insert its reserves.

The Clippers, now 12-1 this season when playing at full strength, shot 57 per cent overall to the Nuggets’ 42 per cent.
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