Kawhi Leonard, the Los Angeles Clippers’ typically stoic star, gave his diagnosis of the issues that led to the team’s Game 7 loss to the Denver Nuggets. While speaking with the media late Tuesday night, Leonard offered a critique of the Clippers’ basketball IQ and team chemistry.
Simply put, Leonard told reporters, the Clippers need to “get smarter as a team.”
Kawhi Leonard said repeatedly Clippers have to get smarter: "That’s when it comes to the team chemistry, knowing what we should run to get the ball in spots or just if someone’s getting doubled or they’re packing the paint…get smarter as a team. Basketball IQ got to get better"
— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) September 16, 2020
As just one example, it’s surprising that just about all fans and analysts were able to identify second halves — and third quarters in particular — as a weakness for Los Angeles, and yet they were still not able to overcome those failures. The Clippers also had no answers for the Nikola Jokic-Jamal Murray two-man game that, while devastating, is a fairly predictable go-to set for Denver and didn’t pose nearly the same issues for the Trail Blazers in last year’s second round.
Journeyman guard and sixth man Lou Williams agreed with Leonard’s explanation.
“I think a lot of the issues that we ran into, talent bailed us out; chemistry it didn’t,” Williams said. “In this series, it failed us. We know this is our first year together. We are a highly talented group and we came up short.
“Chemistry is something that you’ve got to build. You build it over time. I thought we were moving in the right direction at the end of the year before the COVID thing happened and coming in after the break. … Continuity is very important.”
As with any disappointment, the explanation is never as simple as one or two things. Chemistry is earned, not bought, and the Clippers had little time to integrate Marcus Morris, acquired at the trade deadline, before the NBA shut down in mid-March. They were without Williams and Montrezl Harrell for most of the Bubble seeding games. And Leonard, like last year in Toronto, frequently missed games to nurse lower-body injuries and rest up for the postseason.
Both Leonard and Paul George can be free agents in 2021, meaning the Clippers will need to discover a winning formula quickly to solve the problems their stars identified last night.