“We just lean on us being as good as we are on paper and not actually finishing the game,” Morris said Saturday, a day after the Denver Nuggets stunned the Clippers with a second-half comeback to win Game 5. “It’s only happened twice so there is no overreaction.
“[But] I think it is just us being as good as we are and just leaning on that and just the talent and not finishing or playing hard.”
The Clippers enter Sunday’s Game 6 knowing that they have given life to the Nuggets, who in the last round became just the 12th team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit and win a series. The Clippers led by 16 late in the second quarter and by 13 with just over 13 minutes left in the game. Denver went on a 35-14 run to stave off elimination.
For the Clippers, this was the sixth time this season that they’ve lost a game after leading by 15 or more, tied for the most in the NBA this regular season and postseason, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“We put the onus on ourselves,” Morris said. “We should have put that game away; we should have stuck to what we were doing. That has been one of our Achilles’ heels, kind of messing with the game when we get up. To get where we are trying to get to, and that’s being champions, we have to be better. That has nothing to do with coaching. That is on the players.
“[Paul George] said it best: We had that game under control, we had them right where we wanted them at, and we took our foot off the gas. … We all know our capabilities and we have to keep going and stick to the script and finish your business.”
But the Clippers got away from their game plan, Denver started making shots and feeling confident, and the Clippers blew a chance to make the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history.
“I was frustrated at halftime because I really thought we should have been up way more,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “And we had that game where we wouldn’t allow ourselves to be great yesterday. We have to allow ourselves to be great, and to do that you have to have great discipline.”
The Clippers will also need more production than what they got in Game 5 from their bench. Rivers’ team touts the strongest second unit in the game, fueled by the past two Sixth Man of the Year award winners, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams. But the Clippers’ bench was outscored by Denver’s reserves 29-16 in Friday’s game.
Williams shot just 2-for-10 and finished with four points. Harrell had six points and three rebounds in 15 minutes. After a month away from the court to grieve the loss of his grandmother, Harrell is averaging 10.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in 18 minutes per game.
The Clippers knew it might take some time for Harrell, who averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds this season, to find his rhythm after so much time off.
“He’s just been up and down,” Rivers said. “His role is what it is. It’s always been come in, give us energy, score. So I think this is a series he can play a little bit more, but [Nikola] Jokic is tough with [Ivica Zubac], Jokic is tough for Trez. He’s just a hell of a player. I’m not going to put a lot of stock into that.”
More than anything, Rivers says he wants to see his players play the way they are capable of doing it and maintaining that level against an opponent that knows it can thrive in elimination games.
“We kind of got the lead and then we start changing our coverages, doing our own thing,” Rivers said. “Of all the teams left in the bubble, this is the team that will hurt you the most when you do that. And we have great evidence.”