Clippers news: What Kawhi Leonard, Paul George said after stunning Game 6 loss vs. Nuggets
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What Kawhi Leonard, Paul George said after stunning Game 6 loss vs. Nuggets

Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Clippers, Nuggets

Same old Clippers? With a chance to advance to their first ever Western Conference Finals, the LA Clippers blew a 19-point second half lead and will now have to play a winner-take-all Game 7. And no, this isn’t a line taken from 2015. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the Clippers have a lot of work to do between now and Tuesday night if they hope to defeat the Denver Nuggets and continue their pursuit of an NBA Championship beyond Tuesday.

George poured in 33 points, six rebounds, three assists, and five steals on 9-of-21 shooting from the field. Kawhi Leonard added 25 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and two steals on 8-of-18 shooting. Only two other Clippers (Lou Williams, 14 points, and JaMychal Green, 11 points) scored in double figures in what was essentially a replay of Game 5 two nights ago.

“I thought once Murray went down with that injury, from that point on, the complexion of the game completely changed,” head coach Doc Rivers said after the game. “I thought we had were the more physical team. We were attacking and we were getting into the paint and from that point on, if you look at that point on it was a reverse of script. I really, and I use all my time-outs just to try to get us to plan the way we play each game to get these leads.

“It was beautiful basketball, and then we stopped playing. We stopped moving the ball. We stopped attacking on offense. And then that’s what lawed them to score on defense because we didn’t score.”

Game 5 was eerily similar to Game 6 of this series, and to lose a back-to-back close-out games in the exact same fashion is certainly concerning. The Clippers went up by 16 points at halftime in Game 6, the same lead they had and blew in Game 5. They even increased that lead to 19 coming out of the half on a play where Paul George blocked Jamal Murray’s layup attempt and nailed a three-pointer as the trail guy. Denver called for time to make sure Murray was okay, and then decided to make their second incredible comeback in a row to force a Game 7.

“You’ve just got to look at it on film and just see what changes we need to make that we are not doing,” Paul George said. “To this point, it’s happened twice now, last game and today’s game, so look at film and see what changes we need to make to finish the game and keep the same intensity and pace that we have in the first half.”

Following Game 4, which the Clippers emerged out of with a 3-1 series lead, George preached not giving the Nuggets any life and sealing the deal. Despite two fantastic offensive outings from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, they’ve done the exact opposite in two straight games, allowing Denver all the confidence in the world heading into their fourth consecutive Game 7.

“They have been here,” George added. “Like you said, they have been a part of a lot of Game 7s. This team (Denver), they fought — they have been fighting all year. They have been fighting for a while together. This group’s been together. So we know what we are up against. Again, we have the utmost respect for them as opponents, but I like our chances. I like our odds. I like what we have. Again, it’s on us to finish this out.”

Denver’s run begin in a 3rd quarter that saw them shoot 16 free throws. That, paired up with LA shooting just 4-of-21 from the field in the period, set the stage for the comeback.

“We got to try to play defense without fouling,” Leonard said. “You know, limit them, their open looks from the three, and you know, just try to get some offense going. You know, that’s what happened in that third quarter. We pretty much gave up the lead.

“Same thing last two games. Kind of just gave up the lead again. They came down, either scored or got fouled in third quarter and we couldn’t buy a basket. That’s how they came back tonight.”

Last time Leonard played in a Game 7, it ended with a friendly-bouncing buzzer beater to send the Toronto Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals. The message from Leonard to his Clippers teammates is simple.

“Just got to leave it all out on the floor and make sure we are paying attention to detail,” Leonard said. “[Make sure we’re] executing and communicating on the defensive end and that’s all we can do. Go out there and play hard and just make sure we know the game plan.”

Arguably the biggest issue, and one that’s begun stirring controversy on social media, is Doc Rivers’ adoration with Montrezl Harrell. Despite not passing the eye test or the statistical test, Rivers continues to throw Harrell out there in unfavorable situations involving Nikola Jokic only to get burned repeatedly.

With Zubac as the primary defender this series, Nikola Jokic is shooting 29-of-61 from the field (47.5 percent). With Harrell as the primary defender, the Nuggets’ star has made 12-of-17 shots (70.6 percent). Through six games, Zubac has the best net rating on the team (14.4) and second best plus/minus differential on the team (+42) in 157 minutes. Harrell ranks at the bottom in both with a -11.3 net rating and -20 plus/minus in 108 minutes.

LA can get away with playing Harrell in the minutes Mason Plumlee is on the court. However, their insistence on continuing to play Harrell whenever Jokic is in the game has cost them runs and might just cost them the series.

Logic tells you the Clippers have the better team on paper led by their flashy stars. The on-court play has shown that the Nuggets are the better cohesive team and smaller name superstars in Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Game 7 will be a battle, and one that neither team will live down if they fall short.

When the Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard and traded for Paul George last summer, they envisioned their season ending with an NBA Championship after a tough journey together; They did not envision it ending in the Western Conference semifinals at the hands of the Nuggets. If they want the former to become reality, Leonard, George, and especially Doc Rivers will have to lead their team through a grueling Game 7 Tuesday night.