The Denver Nuggets scrapped, looking like the team that was on the brink of elimination with everything on the line.
Even after Kawhi Leonard scored a game high 36 points, the Los Angeles Clippers saw a 15 point, second half lead evaporate, resulting in a 111-105 loss to the Nuggets on Friday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals.
“They hung in there and they just played tough. Like they are not going to go away,” Clippers coach Doc River said on the grit of the Nuggets. “You’ve got to know that, so give them credit.”
It marked Denver’s fourth elimination-game win of the playoffs and kept their season from ending, having now gained some momentum.
“Everyone continues to count us out,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “That’s the way we like it… I know everybody is excited about the Lakers playing the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals, but we’re hoping to have something to say about that.”
Paul Millsap gave the Nuggets life, scoring 14 of his 17 points in the third quarter and Michael Porter Jr made a huge three-pointer to give Denver a two possession lead with 1:11 remaining in the fourth.
Porter Jr. was critical of his team’s game plan in Game 4 and called out coach Malone facing a ton of criticism, but showed up for the team late in crunch time, finishing with 7 points.
Denver trailed by as many as 16 in the first half and saw a 61-46 deficit with 9:42 remaining in the third before Millsap got going with his stellar period. He made 4 of 5 shots and 5 of 6 free throws in the quarter.
“He stood up. His response to that situation really helped our team to respond,” Malone said. “That gave us a group toughness. Paul played really well for us tonight. That play was really impactful.”
Jamal Murray finished with 26 points, while Nikola Jokic added 22 points and 14 rebounds for the Nuggets.
Paul George had 26 for the Clippers, while Marcus Morris Sr. and Patrick Beverley added 12 and 10, respectively.
Denver shot 48 percent from the field, holding Los Angeles to 42 and also controlled a slight rebound advantage of 52-47.
“They played like the season was on the line. They had that approach,” George said. “They were out there flying around and played hard. They made the timely baskets they needed.”
Jokic gave the Nuggets their first lead of the game after draining a three-pointer with 7:06 remaining in the fourth.
The Clippers made 16 threes on the night but it was the Nuggets who made 7 of its 12 threes in the fourth to outscore Los Angeles 38-25 in the period, resulting in the 111-105 win for Denver.
Even in the loss, Leonard and George both know they control their own destiny and are still only one win away from reaching the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
“Just knowing it’s a learning lesson and you know to stay even-keel, enjoy the moment and just come out and be prepared to play another hard-fought game,” Leonard said.
Game 6 between the Clippers and Nuggets will take place on Sunday morning. Tip-off is scheduled for 10:00AM pacific time.
“We’re in the driver’s seat,” George said. “We had them where we wanted them. We should’ve put them away. They came back and won the game. Comes down to Game 6.”