Here’s how Qui Leonard and Paul George combined for zero points in the fourth quarter of the Clippers Game 7 loss

A year ago, the Los Angeles Clippers talked about the league when they eliminated the Perfect Offense, signing Qui Leonard in free agency, and trading for Paul George in a lunge. He was immediately established as one of the favorites to win the title, and for good reason given his talent on the roster.

Leonard, of course, was coming off his illustrious run with the Raptors, winning the MVP in the finals as he led them to their first championship in franchise history. Meanwhile, George had put together the best season of his career, finishing third-placed MVP in 2019. With those two major routes, it looked like reaching the Western Conference Finals for the first time in its 50-year history. Bare minimum for clippers.

Instead, they are going home again early. And that’s because when the Clippers really needed them, their star pair was nowhere to be found. After another early double-digit lead against the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 of their second-round series on Tuesday night, the Clippers split.

They were outscored 50–33 in the second half, only one point higher than they were in the second quarter alone, as the Nuggets converted a 12-point deficit into a 15-point win. At the end of the Clippers in the second half nothing went well, but Leonard and George’s performances in particular were shocking.

Both of them did not score a single point in the fourth quarter, and had more turnover than a basket in the second half. In the final two quarters, they went 2 of 18 from the field, scoring five points and rolling the ball four times. For comparison, all five of the Nuggets overtook Leonard and George in the second half.

The obvious question is how did this happen? How did the two best players in the world play so badly when their team needed them the most?

Let’s start with George. While this is perhaps a bit unfair, he doesn’t have the best reputation as a postman artist, and showing his Game 7 would help that notion. He scored three points in 1 of 7 shooting in the second half and finished the game with 4 of 10 and five of 16 turnovers.

The Nuggets performed brilliantly as many defenders showed when placing the ball on the floor. This forced George to see a variety of turnovers and tough looks, and he deserves credit for that effort.

At the same time, George looked very good. On a trip down the floor in the fourth quarter, he gets a clear 3 from the backboard side. And even later, when the game is very high, he was still bouncing bricks on wide open opportunities.

This is a make or miss league, as it is said, which is a good argument in Leonard’s night. While George, struggling in a big playoff game, did not surprise everyone, Leonard was surprised to come up short. A two-time Finals MVP, Leonard is one of the most constant appearances in the league, and has clutch time again in his career.

In Game 7, however, he just was not. He went 14 points overall on the field for 6 of 22 points, and completely disappeared in the second half, registering only two points on 1 of 11 shooting. For Leonard, it was largely simply a matter of missing shots. Time and again he reached his place, broke apart, and just missed. This is not to say that the Nuggets were playing terrific defense, but it looks like you’d expect Leonard to build on what he’d shown us over the past few seasons.

To some extent, this is not what the Clippers can do. The two best players on the team received a bunch of open shots and could not make them. This is clearly not the only reason they have lost, but if some of them go down, we are seeing a very different game down the stretch.

But such results are a cautionary tale about the importance of taking care of business when you can. The Clippers were 3–1 up in this series, and had a double-digit number in games 5 and 6, they could easily shut things down, but became complacent and put themselves in a position where A cold shooting night from their two stars could end their season.

That’s exactly what happened, and so the Clippers’ 50-year conference finals were drained.

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