LA Clippers 2-1 claim series lead over Nuggets in NBA’s West semis

The Clippers clamped down on defense late to turn a 78-68 Nuggets lead into a 113-107 win to take a 2-1 series edge in the NBA Western Conference semifinals.

They did so while holding the Nuggets to two points over a 3:53 stretch late in the final quarter that included a Kawhi Leonard block that Jamal Murray will not soon forget.

Paul George led the scoring effort with 32 points alongside four rebounds, four-assist, and two steals. Meanwhile, Leonard filled up the box score with 23 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, and a pair of blocks, including this fourth-quarter stuff of Murray at the rim with 1:47 remaining.

The play was emblematic of the tone shift of the final stanza that saw the Clippers outscore the Nuggets 29-19 while exerting their defensive will. It was also a prime example of Leonard’s unique assets that make him one of the best defenders in the game.

“That’s an extra-long middle finger,” George said of Leonard’s block postgame. “Like it kept growing or somethin’.”

The late-game stand proved Doc Rivers prescient. The Clippers head coach told Yahoo Sports’ and TNT’s Chris Haynes early in the game that the first team to make a defensive stand would win the game.

Prior to the fourth quarter, the Nuggets set the pace behind big games from Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. Jokic put his extraordinary offensive skill set on display for much of the game, hitting skyhooks and 3-pointers while dishing full-court outlet passes en route to 32 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists.

Meanwhile, Porter Jr. continued his breakout in the NBA bubble with an 18-point, 10-rebound effort off the bench highlighted by this power move that put Clippers center Montrezl Harrell on a poster.

That dunk was part of a run that saw Denver extend an 84-83 lead to 97-90 with 8:29 left in regulation.

The Clippers called a timeout after a Jerami Grant 3-pointer extended Denver’s lead to seven. After that break, the Clippers reeled off an 8-0 run to reclaim control of the game. From that point on, they did not relinquish it.

They extended that 8-0 run to 21-6 before Nikola Jokic stopped the bleeding to cut Denver’s deficit to 111-105 with 1:09 remaining. But by then it was too late.

Leonard’s block of Murray a possession earlier signaled the end for the Nuggets, who were unable to penetrate a stifling defense in the game’s most critical moments.

The Clippers frustrated Murray for much of the night. The star of the first round of the playoffs with a pair of 50-point games in Denver’s 4-3 win over the Utah Jazz was limited to 14 points on Monday on 5-of-17 shooting from the field. Murray also struggled in Denver’s blowout loss in Game 1 with 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

The steady wave of elite perimeter defenders led by Leonard, George, and Patrick Beverley signal a much stiffer challenge for Murray.

To the Nuggets’ credit, they’ve shifted their offensive focus to Jokic, who gave Harrell and Ivica Zubac fits in the post for a second straight night. A frustrated Zubac fouled with 4:07 remaining with eight points, three rebounds, and no answers for Jokic.

But Jokic’s heroics weren’t enough for the Nuggets on Monday. They’ll surely need a similar effort from their All-NBA center to have a shot in Game 4.

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