The Denver Nuggets needed to bounce back after being blown out by the Los Angeles Clippers in game one of the Western Conference Semifinals. They jumped on L.A. early, opening a twenty plus point lead in the first quarter on the backs of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. The Clippers would fight back in the second half to make a game of it but Denver’s defense held out and ultimately proved to be too much. Nuggets pick up the win 110-101 and even the series.
Both teams struggled from the field early but Denver was able to build a small lead with Murray getting it going. That helped the Nuggets get into a bit of groove while the Clippers remained cold and Denver’s lead grew to ten. Murray continued to be hot as the first six minutes went about as well as it possibly could with the Nuggets lead continuing to grow. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George started to find their range to stop the lead from growing but Jokic kept it from getting any closer. When the benches came in the Nuggets continued to hit threes so the lead kept growing. Joker looked like he took a low blow right at the end of the quarter but appeared to be ok. The Nuggets wrapped up a fantastic first quarter with a nineteen point lead.
L.A. had a couple possessions go their way early in the second on offense but the Nuggets weren’t letting up either and kept the lead around twenty. Denver’s bench was playing outstanding, particularly Monte Morris with great energy from Torrey Craig as well. Towards the midpoint of the quarter the Nuggets started to cool off which let the Clippers cut into the lead. They stopped moving the basketball and settled for jumpers as L.A. went on a 14-3 run to force Michael Malone to take a timeout. Jokic and Murray calmed things down to keep the lead from getting any smaller with the half winding down. After the end of two Denver was up 72-56.
Paul Millsap, who was playing his best game of the playoffs thus far, opened the second half with a three to help Denver push back up by twenty. After that though the Nuggets offense went cold and the Clippers started fighting back. Their shooting struggles continued before Murray finally hit a step back at the halfway point of the quarter keeping the Nuggets lead at fifteen. Had it not been for the Clippers being equally as cold as Denver the game could have been close, but the third quarter in general was a massive brick fest. L.A. did seem to be getting the benefit of the whistle which kept the game just inside striking distance with the quarter coming to a close. Michael Porter Jr and Lou Williams got into a little duel at the end with the Clippers closing a little stronger and pulling within twelve after three.
Denver looked a bit sluggish to start the final frame, particularly on offense, while the Clippers kept chipping away. George came to life and started knocking down shots behind an L.A. 12-3 run to get the game close. Gary Harris injected some life back into Denver with a pair of threes to spark a Nuggets 8-0 run and the lead was back to double digits with six minutes to go. Things started to get sloppy in crunch time however and the Nuggets let the Clippers hang around. Murray hit a huge step back three with two minutes to go and Harris followed it up with a corner three to put what felt like the final nail in the coffin. Still the Clippers had life after a Marcus Morris three but Patrick Beverly picked up two fouls on one possession and argued his way to double technicals and an ejection which would be all she wrote. Nuggets win 110-101.
This was not an offensively charged matchup tonight but it needs to be highlighted. I said in the preview there was no stopping Kawhi but I was wrong. Grant turned in a defensive masterpiece on The Klaw while getting some help from Harris and Craig along the way. Probably the worst performance the Nuggets can expect from Leonard this series and that’s 100% because of that group.
Harris was absolutely outstanding tonight. He helped contain Kawhi, played tough defense on George and was a key contributor on offense. It was Harris who ultimately put the Clippers away with some big threes in the final minutes. It can’t be overstated how much Denver missed his defense while he was out but tonight we also saw how much they can use his shooting. I don’t expect Gary to be a huge contributor on offense throughout the playoffs but he shows how he can be another threat for Denver on any given night.
The Nuggets controlled this one from the jump and ended up going wire to wire with the lead but it certainly doesn’t feel like a dominant win. Denver built a huge lead in the first quarter behind Jokic and Murray and sort of just rode that for the rest of the game. It’s probably not wise to expect the Clippers stars to struggle like this again either. Still, a win is a win and the Nuggets can be happy knowing the series is tied 1-1.