Doc Rivers went over the wreckage from the LA Clippers’ Game 6 collapse and saw a few tell-tale signs.
In blowing two big leads in their past two losses to allow the Denver Nuggets to stunningly force a Game 7, the Clippers stopped playing with the pace and purpose that helped them build 16-point and 19-point leads in Games 5 and 6.
And in Game 6, Rivers saw the game turn in the third quarter after Jamal Murray went down hard with no foul called and Paul George hit a 3 that put the Clippers up 68-49 with 10:10 left in the quarter.
“There’s no secret like potion that something happened,” Rivers said on Monday about the Clippers’ two blown leads in a row. “The two things that we didn’t do, clearly defensively, they shot almost 60% in the second half. The one thing that did stand out, they went to the free throw line like on every play.”
“I think from the time when Murray went down with that injury,” Rivers added of the Nuggets shooting 12 of 16 free throws in the third after the Clippers led by 19. “I think that’s human nature. You see a guy go down, there’s no call on the play, and then the next thing you know you’re at the free throw line. And give Denver credit because they understood that and they started being aggressive.”
Overall, both teams shot the same number of free throws (27) in Game 6, but Rivers points out that the Nuggets’ aggression paid off in the second half as Denver went to the line 19 times to the Clippers’ 11 in the second half.
As the Clippers enter their biggest game of the season trying to advance to their first Western Conference finals, Rivers says it’s imperative that George and his guards stay out of foul trouble.
George has committed no less than four fouls in the three previous games with five fouls apiece in Games 4 and 5. Patrick Beverley also fouled out in 18 minutes in Game 6, putting a strain on Rivers’ defensive rotation.
“PG can’t get in foul trouble,” Rivers said of needing his star guard in Game 7. “I think he’s been in foul trouble at least two, maybe three of the games, and at times he’s not even guarding one of your key guys. We’ve just got to keep him on the floor.
“The foul trouble by our guards, they have been very hurtful in this series, and not just the last two games. We’ve got to keep our guards on the floor, because if we don’t, we’ve got to go to lineups defensively that are not desirable.”
While the resilient Nuggets have the momentum and will be playing in their fourth consecutive Game 7 dating back to last postseason, the Clippers will be relying mostly on the Game 7 experience of both Rivers and Kawhi Leonard.
Rivers is no stranger to Game 7s. He is 6-7 in Game 7s all-time with his wins second only to Red Auerbach’s eight, per ESPN Stats & Information research.
“Rah-rah speeches are very overrated,” Rivers said of what he will tell his team before Game 7. “They last about three minutes … there’s no like secret speech. That’s for the movies.”
“There’s nothing secret or magical,” Rivers added. “It’s about playing basketball, manning up, moving the ball, doing all the things that we can do.”
And the Clippers will lean on Leonard, the reigning Finals MVP who is 2-2 in Game 7s.
“Just got to leave it all out on the floor and make sure we are paying attention to detail and executing and communicating on the defensive end,” Leonard said on Sunday of his message to his team about playing in Game 7s. “And that’s all we can do, go out there and play hard and just make sure we know the game plan.”
Leonard eliminated Philadelphia last year with his memorable buzzer-beating corner shot in Game 7 of the East semis for the Toronto Raptors.
“He’s unshakable,” Rivers said of Leonard. “Kawhi, you can’t guarantee he’ll play well or not because he’s human and all players are.
“But you know, the moment won’t be too big. That’s the one thing like with him, you just know that. So that’s comforting to know that.”