After back-to-back wins in Games 3 and 4, the L.A. Clippers assumed total control in a best-of-seven clash against the Denver Nuggets. From there, Doc Rivers’ team led by 15 points in the second half of Game 5, only to see the Nuggets rise up to stay alive. Finally, the Clippers led by a whopping 19 points after halftime in Game 6 before succumbing yet again to a Denver team that clicked at just the right time.
In the hours after a second straight collapse, much has been said about the Clippers and their second-half issues but, on the day before Game 7, Rivers spoke to the media on Monday and downplayed any thought of an overarching issue. Rivers said, “there’s no secret like potion that something happened,” before shedding light on some defensive issues. From there, the championship-winning head coach focused on foul issues on the perimeter and, particularly, with Paul George.
“PG can’t get in foul trouble,” Rivers said, via ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk. “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.”
George managed to play 42 minutes in Game 5 and 39 minutes in Game 6, indicating that foul trouble didn’t keep him off the floor for large swaths of time. Still, George has had at least four fouls in three straight games and, if nothing else, it is difficult for a star-level player to fight defensively at the highest level when also worried about foul issues.
Rivers did continue, though, and he expanded beyond George.
“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.”
Perhaps more so than George, Patrick Beverley is a player to focus on with regard to foul issues. He fouled out in only 18 minutes of court time in Game 6 and, prior to that, Beverley accumulated eight fouls in 50 combined minutes between Games 4 and 5. For good measure, the always high-strung Beverley was ejected after only 15 minutes of play in a Game 2 loss, and he had five personal fouls when he was disqualified.
All told, Rivers is right to point out that there isn’t a magic potion to fix things, nor a solitary issue for the Clippers. Yes, it would be great to keep Beverley on the court, as he is one of the better options against Jamal Murray. It would also be ideal to have George free to play aggressive defense, and there are countless factors in play.
Lineups without George and/or Beverley are defensively flammable, and that should certainly be acknowledged when contributing to back-to-back hiccups against the Nuggets. Still, the Clippers simply must be better defensively on the whole, with L.A. allowing an almost inconceivable 139.4 offensive rating for the Nuggets in the second half of the last two games. That is an unacceptable baseline, regardless of which players are on the floor and how many fouls they are carrying.