September 18, 2021

Clippers ‘set to play full hand’ against Nuggets

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LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers knows how to make a team peak at the right time and we are about to see what his squad can do at full strength, says BBL legend Mike Tuck.

Thursday night’s NBA playoff games live on Sky Sports

  • Gm 3: Raptors @ Celtics | 11:30pm | Sky Sports Arena
  • Gm 1: Nuggets @ Clippers | 2am | Sky Sports Arena
Sky Sports NBA analyst Mike Tuck pictured in studio
Image: Sky Sports NBA analyst Mike Tuck pictured in the studio

‘We’re about to see what the Clippers can do at full strength’

We have a second-round clash pitting momentum versus depth, the Nuggets fresh off their dramatic first-round comeback against the LA Clippers’ deep roster.

Kawhi Leonard was an absolute monster in the Clippers’ first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks. He went about his business in typically quiet fashion but put up huge numbers while still doing a lot of the defensive end. He put up 32.8 points a game against Dallas while also recording 2.3 steals a game. Who else does that?

Clippers coach Doc Rivers has that championship pedigree and he knows how to make a team peak at the right time. Earlier in the season he was unable to play all his cards. The line-ups kept changing, guys were not healthy.

Now they are moving in a direction where Rivers is going to play his full hand. We are going to see what this Clippers team can really do at full strength.

LA Clippers guard Patrick Beverley in action during the 2019-20 regular season
Image: LA Clippers guard Patrick Beverley in action during the 2019-20 regular season

Patrick Beverley has not played since Game 1 of the first round because of a calf injury but, according to Doc, we are likely to see him back on the court against the Nuggets. Imagine adding him back into that mix. He will make their perimeter even stronger, especially on the defensive end.

‘Tougher test for Murray’

Jamal Murray elevates to score against the Utah Jazz
Image: Jamal Murray elevates to score against the Utah Jazz

The Nuggets are riding on Jamal Murray’s back – 31.6 points a game, six assists, three consecutive 40-point games (including two 50s) in the series against the Jazz, 221 points over seven games. He is red-hot right now. In that series, Murray hit 32 three-pointers at 53 per cent over those seven games. That consistency will win you games. Once Murray got going, his momentum was impossible to stop.

More on this story

Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets reacts to a play during the game against the Utah Jazz during Round One Game Six of the NBA Playoffs 2:05
Murray kept the Nuggets’ season alive with 50 points, five rebounds and six assists in their Game 6 win over the Jazz

But you have to look at match-ups in this series and Murray is not going to have such an easy time with Leonard and Paul George potentially matching up against him. The physicality they are going to bring is going to be a lot different to what he faced in the first round against Utah.

George and Leonard are two of the best defenders in the league, especially on the perimeter. They are super-physical, especially Kawhi.

‘Jokic must be the focal point’

Nikola Jokic celebrates a basket during the Denver Nuggets' Game 7 win over the Utah Jazz 1:30
Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic scored 30 points in their 80-78 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 7 of their Western Conference first-round series

I think Nikola Jokic will be a huge focus of Denver’s offense in this series. There will be so much defensive attention on Murray and the Clippers have lots of people to guard him. Jokic has to be Denver’s best player in this series.

The way Jokic can step out and hit long-range shots, he has to do that to take advantage of Clippers center Ivica Zubac. The Clippers have other ‘bigs’ to throw at him like Montrezl Harrell, Marcus Morris Sr and JaMychal Green but Jokic has the size advantage over them. He has to understand when to play inside and when to play outside.

Jokic is averaging 19 points (on 58 per cent shooting), 10 rebounds and seven assists in games against the Clippers this season. He has an advantage and he will be a focal point for the Nuggets. He might even demand double-teams depending on match-ups, that is where kick-out passing and Denver’s three-point shooting will come into play.

Nuggets, Murray must ‘pick their spots’

Jamal Murray celebrates with Denver Nuggets team-mate Nikola Jokic
Image: Murray celebrates with Jokic

I thought coach Mike Malone did a great job in the series against the Jazz. He switched up the starting line-up before Game 4, gave Jerami Grant more minutes and sat Paul Millsap down. He did a good job of recognising match-up problems and the Nuggets took advantage.

Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets reacts to play during Round One, Game Five of the NBA Playoffs on August 25, 2020 at The Field House in Orlando, Florida. 4:59
Mo Mooncey and Ovie Soko believe Murray is a true star for Denver but BJ Armstrong feels he needs to effect the game more when he’s not scoring

Michael Porter Jr started well in the first couple of games against the Jazz but he fizzled out and kind of vanished by the end of the series. His offense looks effortless but he is a bit of a defensive liability and is still figuring things out there. When you have guys like Gary Harris (who has just returned from injury), Torrey Craig and Grant, those guys are better options in terms of guarding wing players than Porter Jr.

Gary Harris guards Donovan Mitchell in Game 7
Image: Gary Harris guards Donovan Mitchell in Game 7

The Nuggets-Jazz series switched because Denver were able to put Craig and Harris out there. They are good defenders who can knock down shots. They spread the floor a little bit more and that opened things up for Murray, who benefitted from getting better one-on-one situations.

Against the Clippers, Murray has to pick his spots. When the Nuggets get him in situations where he is being guarded by Landry Shamet or if they can put him in pick-and-roll situations with Zubac, he can really take advantage. He can create space and connect from mid-range.

preview image 2:02
Highlights of Game 4 of the first round playoff series between the Denver Nuggets and the Utah Jazz

But the Clippers’ depth will be a real problem for Denver. Guys like Harrell and Morris Sr are going to be able to switch out on their perimeter players for small spurts and be able to stay in front of them. There will not be big guys for the Nuggets players to drive right by.

Denver are a good match-up for the Clippers. They will be a tougher test than the Mavericks because they are a deeper than Dallas.

I am taking the Clippers to win the series in six games. I can see the Denver stealing two wins.

Watch Nuggets @ Clippers Game 1 live on Sky Sports Arena in the early hours of Friday morning (2am)

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