Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
The comeback kids dominate Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, winning big to send Los Angeles out of the bubble.
Nikola Jokic had a historic triple-double, putting up 16 points, 22 rebounds, and 13 assists in 31 minutes. Jamal Murray finished with 40 points and five assists, taking advantage of mismatches all game against the Clippers guards to help lead Denver to a win.
The Nuggets started well, getting the offense flowing through Jokic as he got some baskets and a nifty assist to Jerami Grant. The Clippers kept battling, scrapping for an offensive rebound that wound up with Marcus Morris getting a 3-pointer to bounce in off the rim. The Clippers found some success on defense by sending double teams to Murray on the pick and roll, gambling that the ball would wind up in Grant or Millsap’s hands and result in a missed shot. Both teams struggled to shoot from behind the arc, with each team going 1 for 6.
The Nuggets were able to get a layup in transition from Craig, then Monte Morris kicked in a triple to stretch the lead to 22-18. MPJ committed a turnover, catching the ball near the sideline and pushing his foot across the line as he made a move to the basket. Murray tossed the ball away under pressure from Patrick Beverley with 12 seconds left, the Nuggets seventh turnover of the quarter. The two teams were tied after the first quarter, with Jokic leading the team with eight points.
The Clippers started the second quarter with a Lou Williams powered run, with the Clippers guard finding Montrezl Harrell on a dive to the rim and then banging home a runner. The Clippers hit back-to-back 3-pointers to take a nine point lead, as the Nuggets struggled to convert some open looks. Murray was able to knock in his second 3-pointer, finally getting a bucket to fall after a couple wide open misses. The Nuggets had back-to-back turnovers after cutting the lead to seven points, and it let the Clippers regain their footing for a few minutes.
The Clippers went small halfway through the quarter, with Doc Rivers electing not to play Zubac with his three fouls. Paul George picked up his third foul, getting whistled for an offensive foul hooking his arm around Jokic as he made a move near the basket. Leonard was able to power his way to the rim for a layup, giving Los Angeles a 12-point lead, as the Nuggets continued to miss open shots from behind the 3-point line. The Nuggets missed three shots on one possession, a brutal missed opportunity to get points after a stop. Denver got another couple stops, and finally started getting the ball downhill in the final two minutes to cut the lead down to 56-54 at the end of the first half. Murray had himself a quarter, finishing with 20 points.
The Nuggets came out of the locker room playing some stupid basketball, with Murray pulling the trigger on a deep 3-pointer early in the shot clock in transition and Millsap committing an illegal screen foul. Grant hit back-to-back 3-pointers, as a fat pig flew through the air over the court, and the Clippers had to call a timeout. Jokic hit a midrange jumper after the timeout to put the Nuggets up by three points, taking advantage of Zubac’s limitations. JaMychal Green snapped the Nuggets run, hitting a midrange jumper, but Papa Millsap hit a triple to put Denver up by eight points.
The Clippers brought Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell back on the court, and the Nuggets continued to get open looks and increase their lead. Paul George hit a triple, and Malone called timeout to give his starters a chance to catch their breath. Jokic picked up a triple double, with Jerami Grant making a clean cut to the basket with the big fella dropping the ball off for a dunk. Jokic picked up another assist on a nice dribble handoff to Craig, who beat George to the rim for a layup. Jokic was called for his fourth foul of the game on a drive by Harrell, sending him to the bench for the final seconds to help him avoid getting a cheap foul. Jokic became the first player in NBA history, regular season or playoffs, to have a triple-double with over 15 rebounds in three quarters.
The Nuggets started the fourth quarter with a 82-74 lead, and started the final period with a Plumlee offensive foul for a turnover and a missed shot by Michael Porter Jr. Murray had things break right for him, turning an ugly possession into gold and a 10 point lead. MPJ got to the free throw line, blowing past his defender and drawing the foul on Harrell. Murray pulled up from deep and knocked down a 3-pointer to put us up 15, and all of Nuggets nation was like:
The Nuggets were able to survive a few more minutes with Jokic on the bench, getting a couple stops while predictably struggling on offense. The Clippers defense got a stop after Jokic checked back in the game, but they missed their first ten shots of the quarter as the Nuggets continued to hold onto their lead. Their first field goal came on a putback that could have easily been offensive goaltending from JaMychal Green, but Jokic countered with a post-up for a bucket.
Jamal Murray turned the ball over after a timeout, and Harrell scored for Los Angeles, but George fouled Jokic to put the Nuggets in the bonus with three minutes left. Murray stuck the dagger right between the ribs of Clippers nation to put them up 18, and then after Jokic stole the ball in the pick and roll, Grant had a two-handed dunk to go up by 20, punching the Nuggets ticket to the Western Conference Finals.
The Nuggets became the first team in NBA history to overcome 3-1 deficits in consecutive series. They return to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2009, to play the Lakers just like our last time.
Enjoy this moment, Nuggets fans. What a great night to be a Nuggets fan. We’ve got a squad.