A three beating a two may not seem like a monumental upset on paper. But when that No. 2 seed is the Los Angeles Clippers, led by two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, perennial All-Star Paul George, prized bench pieces “Lemon Pepper Lou” Williams and Montrezl Harrel (who, together, have combined to win four of the last six Sixth Man of the Year awards) and legendary coach Doc Rivers, “monumental” is the only word that fits.
Denver’s seven-game triumph over Los Angeles, a team with legitimate championship aspirations, was a stunner on multiple levels. Not only did the Nuggets, powered by versatile seven-footer Nikola Jokic and ascendant point guard Jamal Murray, stomp the heavily-favored Clippers with a 15-point rout in Tuesday’s clincher, but they did it after losing three of the series’ first four games. That’s nothing new for the Nuggets, who accomplished the same feat in the previous round, storming back from a 3-1 series deficit to stun Utah in a down-to-the-wire Game 7.
Denver now heads to its first conference finals since 2009 (Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups were running the show back then) while the Clippers, thanks to a ghastly shooting performance in Game 7 (37.8 percent from the field including 25.7% from beyond the arc), are going home emptyhanded. L.A.’s surprise ouster left a slew of industry experts eating crow with Twitter user _Toon reminding us just how full the Clippers’ bandwagon was heading into their series with Denver.
Crucifying TV talking heads for botching their predictions is never a particularly fair (Lord knows how poorly some of my own takes have aged over the years) or useful exercise. But seeing respected analysts like Jalen Rose, Richard Jefferson and Michael Wilbon so quick to anoint Los Angeles had to have added a layer of motivation for the Nuggets, a team plenty capable of wreaking havoc without the benefit of cued-up bulletin-board material.
The amount of Clippers support was staggering to say the least with Kevin Durant, Paul Pierce, Draymond Green and Tracy McGrady among countless names pounding the table for Los Angeles.
“I think it’s the Clippers’ championship to lose this year,” said former NBA agitator Matt Barnes during an appearance on ESPN’s “Get Up.”
“The Clippers are the best team in basketball,” offered Jay Williams (also of ESPN), sharing in Barnes’ pro-Clippers sentiment.
“The Clippers are LOADED,” said Rose, laying it on extra thick. “They’re the best team in the league at defending isolation plays. That’s why the Clippers are my choice to make it to the NBA Finals out of the west.”
With the Clippers out of the way, Denver’s storybook postseason will continue against the Lakers with Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals set for Friday at 9 PM ET.