Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

The Clippers said no thanks to the buzzer-beaters, barn-burners and end-of-game chaos that have been en vogue this week in the NBA bubble.

In their first second-round playoff game since 2015, the Clippers enjoyed a victory light on intrigue, heavy on Kawhi Leonard — and featured a healthy dash of Patrick Beverley.

Rested but not rusty after playing only once in eight days, the second-seeded Clippers got right down to business in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series, dominating a fatigued Denver Nuggets group, 120-97, on Thursday.

  • Denver Nuggets’ Gary Harris (14) keeps the ball from Los Angeles Clippers’ Patrick Beverley (21) in the second half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray (27) moves past Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (2) in the second half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Los Angeles Clippers’ Ivica Zubac (40) dunks in front of Denver Nuggets’ Paul Millsap (4) and Nikola Jokic (15)in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (2) gestures in the second half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Denver Nuggets Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Los Angeles Clippers’ Lou Williams (23) passes in front of Denver Nuggets’ Torrey Craig (3) in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic (15) shoots over Los Angeles Clippers’ Reggie Jackson (1) in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (2) moves between Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray (27) and Nikola Jokic, right, in the second half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Denver Nuggets’ Torrey Craig (3) is defended by Los Angeles Clippers’ Landry Shamet (20) in the second half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers shouts in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Denver Nuggets Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic (15) shoots in front of Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (2) in the second half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray (27) shoots in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (2) goes up for a dunk in front of Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic (15) in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Denver Nuggets’ Paul Millsap (4) shoots as Los Angeles Clippers’ Marcus Morris Sr. (31) defends in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets and Marcus Morris Sr. #31 of the LA Clippers dive for the loose ball during the second quarter against the LA Clippers in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 03, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray (27) gestures in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers drives the ball against Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets during the second quarter in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 03, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots in front of Denver Nuggets’ Torrey Craig (3) in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Monte Morris #11 of the Denver Nuggets drives the ball against Reggie Jackson #1 of the LA Clippers during the second quarter in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 03, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic (15) dunks in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George, left, goes up for a shot in front of Denver Nuggets’ Mason Plumlee (7) in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic (15) shoots in front of Los Angeles Clippers’ Ivica Zubac (40) in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Reggie Jackson #1 of the LA Clippers fouls Michael Porter Jr. #1 of the Denver Nuggets during the second quarter in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 03, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers and Marcus Morris Sr. #31 of the LA Clippers react over Torrey Craig #3 of the Denver Nuggets during the second quarter in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 03, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, right, grabs his own rebound in front of Los Angeles Clippers’ Ivica Zubac, center, and Marcus Morris Sr. (31) in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets and Marcus Morris Sr. #31 of the LA Clippers dive for the loose ball during the second quarter against the LA Clippers in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 03, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray (27) defends Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George, left, in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Thursday, Sept 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Clippers cruise past Denver in Game 1 of Western Conference semifinal series

    Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers dunks the ball during the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 03, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

L.A. shot 48 for 84 (57.1%), including 10 of 24 from long range. It dominated inside, too, outscoring Denver 66-40 in the paint. The Clippers limited Nuggets stars Jamal Murray (who averaged 31.6 points per game in the first round) to 15 points and Nikola Jokic to 12.

And they improved to 12-1 in games this season with a fully-stocked roster, and 40-13 in games this season in which Beverley participates (including 2-0 in the playoffs).

The 6-foot-1 guard returned after missing five consecutive games with a strained left calf. The team’s emotional leader contributed the loudest voice on defense — and eight points, hitting two of three 3-point attempts, grabbing six rebounds and dishing two assists in his first 12 minutes of action since Game 1 of the Clippers’ first-round series against Dallas.

“When you’re out with an injury, man … I was humbled,” Beverley said, via Zoom, after the win. “And I was just fortunate to be out there. You can’t take health for granted man, it’s really important. It was good going out there with my brothers, man, competing.

“Playing the type of ball we do, it was fun tonight.”

For his part, Leonard — the Clippers’ resident “Fun Guy” — punched the clock and went back to work plowing through the playoff field.

The two-time NBA Finals MVP from Moreno Valley scored an efficient 29 points on 12-of-16 shooting in 31 minutes, finishing one point shy of notching his sixth consecutive 30-point game. He did become the only player beside Michael Jordan to score 29 points or more in the first seven games of a postseason and extended his league-leading streak of 20-plus-point games to 15 games.

For good measure, Leonard also had three assists, two steals and a block.

“One thing about K is you know he’s gonna be prepared, you know he’s gonna be ready to play,” said Marcus Morris Sr. of Leonard, who averaged 32.8 points while shooting 53.8% in six games against the Mavericks. “He’s a great guy to have on your team, especially around this time.”

“You know,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “He puts the work in. There’s very few guys that will outwork him. So he puts it in, so when the game starts, he can withdraw.”

After an evenly played 31-31 first quarter, Clippers cashed in during the second, nearly doubling up the Nuggets 38-20 in the period, when L.A. made 13 of 19 shots.

Denver couldn’t muster the energy or execution to contend with L.A. from then on, appearing to still be feeling the effects of an exhausting seven-game first-round series against the Utah Jazz, which ended fewer than 48 hours before this one began.

The Clippers did their part by deploying a contingent of locked-in, lengthy defenders — “we cluttered it up a little bit,” Rivers said — limiting Denver to 20 points in the second period and 16 in the third to build a 91-67 lead going into the final quarter.

The secret to the defensive success Thursday, Leonard said, wasn’t much of a secret at all. Just solid basketball.

“Just trying to contest their shots, staying in front of them,” he said. “I thought we did a great job of that, and you know, the other defenders, as well, that wasn’t in the action, they were on help-side defense, just that’s it.”

On the other end, the Clippers got 19 points from Paul George, 18 from Marcus Morris Sr., 15 from Montrezl Harrell and 10 from Lou Williams.

It’s just one game, though, Leonard cautioned.

“That team went through a seven-game series,” he said. “And I’m sure they will come back more prepared for Game 2.”

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