ORLANDO — There new-look Los Angeles Clippers, the team that entered the NBA bubble considered a favorite to win it all, might want to avoid a deep dive into their franchise history the next 36 hour.
The Clippers are now 0-7 all-time with a chance to clinch a berth in the conference finals on the line, the latest stumble coming Sunday in a 111-96 Game 6 loss to the Denver Nuggets. It’s the second straight game that the Clippers have lost in this series after leading by double-digits in the third quarter.
They surrendered a 15-point lead in their Game 5 loss and were ahead by 19 points in the fourth quarter Sunday before the Nuggets finished rallied, outscoring the Clippers 64-35 in the second half, to force a Game 7 Tuesday night.
> Game 7: Nuggets vs. Clippers, Tuesday at 9 ET on ESPN
A season-long trend of surrendering big leads hasn’t gone away for the Clippers during these playoffs. Seven times this season they lost games when leading by 15 or more points, and that includes a first-round loss to Dallas when they led by 21.
Despite their second-half crumbling in each of the past two games of this series, Paul George is adamant that the Clippers are still in control of their own destiny in this series and ultimately this season.
“We know what we are up against,” George said after his 33-point effort Sunday. “We have the utmost respect for them as opponents, but I like our chances. I like our odds. I like what we have. Again, it’s on us to finish this out.”
The berth in the conference finals doesn’t just come with historical significance for the Clippers. It’s also an opportunity to square off against their Staples Center rival Los Angeles Lakers, who locked their spot down Saturday by trouncing the Houston Rockets in Game 5 of their conference semifinal series.
With their once-commanding 3-1 lead over the Nuggets vanishing, the Clippers will now face the scrutiny and questions that come with a potential collapse on the big stage.
“This group’s staying together. “ Goerge said. “We’re still in the driver’s seat. It’s not a panic mode. We have a Game 7.”
When asked if they choked Game 6 away, two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard didn’t want to frame it that way.
“We just went cold. We went cold in that third quarter, that’s it,” he said. “We kept getting into the paint, passing the ball and got a little stagnant and just couldn’t make shots.”
He knows better than anyone what kind of pressure comes with a Game 7, having hit a shot at the buzzer last season to beat the Philadelphia 76ers in the conference semifinals. The Nuggets are the first team in playoff history to play in four straight Game 7s, adding even more intrigue to Tuesday night’s winner-take-all showdown.
His message to his teammates for Game 7 is simple.
“It’s pressure every game,” Leonard said. “We’ve just got to leave it all out there on the floor. Make sure we are paying attention to detail, executing and communicating on the defensive end. That’s all we can do, go out there and play hard and make sure we know the game plan.”
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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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