The Los Angeles Clippers will try to advance to their first Western Conference final Friday when they face the Denver Nuggets in Game 5 of their semifinal series in the NBA bubble near Orlando.
The Clippers grabbed a 3-1 edge against the Nuggets on Wednesday in a 96-85 victory. Kawhi Leonard had 30 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four steals for the Clippers, who never trailed. Leonard has scored at least 30 points in six playoff games. He is averaging 29.2 points per game in the postseason.
“It’s always good if you can make it to the next round, but we’ve got a lot of work to do still,” Leonard told the media after the win. “The Denver team does not quit. They’ve got a good group over there, a good coach, so we’re still fighting.”
Montrezl Harrell added 15 points and Lou Williams chipped in 12 for Los Angeles. Ivica Zubac had 11 points and nine rebounds. Marcus Morris Sr. also scored 11, while Paul George contributed 10 points but was limited by foul trouble.
The Clippers’ defense played a key role in the outcome, limiting the Nuggets to 39.7 percent shooting.
“This was a great example of a game and the old saying that your defense will save you and your offense at times will let you down,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, whose club shot 41.8 percent. “We got great shots tonight. We just couldn’t make shots, and I’m sure they’re probably feeling the same way. But instead of worrying about the shots we weren’t making, we just kept playing defense. That allowed us to win the game.”
Nikola Jokic had 26 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, while Jamal Murray finished with 18 points and seven assists for Denver.
Murray, who was 6-of-15 shooting from the floor, again was forced to deal with the Clippers sending several defenders at him, including Leonard, George and Patrick Beverley.
“We did so many good things tonight,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “It was just too bad we couldn’t find any rhythm offensively. And when we did find rhythm, and when we did find open shots, we just weren’t able to knock them down.”
The third-seeded Nuggets are down 3-1 for the second consecutive series. They rallied by winning three straight against the Utah Jazz in the first round to advance, but the second-seeded Clippers, with Leonard and all their depth, are a bigger challenge.
“This is a different opponent, obviously,” Malone said. “Very talented, deep team but I think we do have confidence in being a resilient group and being a team that when everyone has written us off, we have found a way. But all I’m worrying about right now, to be very honest, is how to help my team, on both ends, win Game 5.”
The Game 4 loss frustrated several Nuggets, Malone said. Michael Porter Jr. was one of them.