Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images
What a win
The Denver Nuggets again found themselves facing elimination in the playoffs, this time against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers captured momentum early and built a big lead behind Kawhi Leonard and Paul George despite the efforts of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. It looked all but over before Paul Millsap saved Denver in the third and Michael Porter Jr closed the door in the fourth. Denver rallies late and forces game six with a 111-105 win.
The Nuggets opened the game cold and didn’t get a field goal for the first two minutes so L.A. had a lead practically from the jump. The struggles continued as the quarter progressed but it didn’t hurt the Nuggets too much as Los Angeles was also struggling with their offense. Finally Jokic and Murray got some traction and led the Nuggets on a run to force Doc Rivers to take a timeout. Denver got within one before the Clippers responded with a run of their own to maintain their lead. By the time Denver’s bench checked in the lead was back to nine. The reserves gave the Nuggets some good energy to make the Clipper lead just five by quarter’s end.
Blue Arrow bucket to begin. pic.twitter.com/IHgrIA1tSC
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) September 11, 2020
The bench tried to keep pace as the quarter started but Denver looked flat. They went a solid two and a half minutes without a point while L.A. built their lead up to fifteen. The starters got back in and pushed back a bit but it started to feel like the he air was coming out of the Nuggets already. Murray and Jokic responded and were doing their best but Denver couldn’t get any closer than ten points. The Clippers went on another run with the quarter winding down while Denver could only muster free throws. The half ended with L.A. up by twelve.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) September 11, 2020
Denver was sluggish to start the second half and couldn’t close on the Clippers. It really started to look like the Nuggets were ready to go home, particularly with the way Kawhi was cooking like he was. The one advantage Denver had was in the paint, particularly with Millsap, and they used that to keep within striking distance but struggled to get any closer than ten points. Kawhi got a rest which slowed down the Clippers attack but the Nuggets were unable to take advantage on the other end. Millsap gave the Nuggets a boost as the quarter came to a close. Denver closed the third trailing by just seven as the momentum finally felt like it was going Denver’s way.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) September 12, 2020
That energy carried over into the fourth with the Nuggets applying the pressure. Murray knocked down a three and Mason Plumlee finished an alley oop pass from MPJ to pull the Nuggets within two and force a Clippers timeout. They pushed back but the Nuggets weren’t giving up. Murray banked a three and Jokic followed up with one of his own to give Denver their first lead. Murray and Jokic kept on the pressure while L.A. looked like they were running out of gas and the Nuggets lead extended to eight. The Clippers responded behind Leonard and George and went on a run to get within two with a minute and a half to go. Porter nailed a clutch three and then blocked Ivica Zubac on the other end to keep the Nuggets up by five. Leonard wouldn’t let it go easy but L.A. ran out of time. Denver wins 111-105.
Best matchup: Jamal Murray vs Kawhi Leonard
Murray finally found his form tonight and the Nuggets needed every bit of it. Jamal and Jokic were the only thing that kept the Nuggets from falling down 20+ in the first half. In the second he wasn’t quite as effective but still hit some huge shots down the stretch including a bank three that pulled Denver within two in the closing minutes of the game. Meanwhile Kawhi looked every bit the superstar that he is. He looked like he was trying to kill the Nuggets spirit early and very nearly did that with Denver still unable to have any answer for him. Luckily for Denver Kawhi cooled off just enough at the end to get the Nuggets the win.
Main thing I noticed: Paul freaking Millsap
I have been as critical as any of Millsap during these playoffs and it’s been deserved. Make no mistake though, Papa Paul saved the Nuggets season tonight. With the young guns looking ready to call it a bubble, it was the old vet who put the team on his back in the third quarter and gave the Nuggets life. Tonight showed why having a grizzled vet like Millsap is so important. I was wrong, you were wrong, we were all wrong when we said Paul and the Nuggets were done. While it’s not always pretty, his experience in being there and doing that can’t be overstated.
Closing thought: never say die
This team refuses to give up or go quietly. Do I think they are going to ultimately win this series? No, but I certainly don’t think they are going to go down easily either. Tonight is just another example in a season’s worth of examples of how this team has incredible resiliency. As I said in the preview, no matter what happens this year you’ve got to be proud of the way this team fights.