The Los Angeles Clippers had controlled the game, never quite pulling away but clearly looking the better team. Los Angeles came out playing a purpose, defending well and throwing Jamal Murray off, being physical, then pushing the pace and getting out in transition all game long. It worked. The Clippers led by as many as 16 and were up 80-73 heading into the fourth.
Then Denver, playing with a focus born of desperation, played its best quarter of the series — 38 points, Murray and Nikola Jokic making plays, hustle on defense, and then Michael Porter Jr. sticking the dagger in the Clippers.
CLUTCH SHOT BY MPJ! 🎯 pic.twitter.com/WGHBCUBt1a
— NBA TV (@NBATV) September 12, 2020
It was enough to keep Denver’s season alive. The Nuggets won Game 5 111-105, but the L.A. Clippers still lead the series 3-2. Game 6 is on Sunday.
“I know there’s not a lot of belief…” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said of the view of his team, which trailed 3-1 last round to Utah and came back. “We believe in ourselves.”
Jamal Murray summed up the turnaround. The Clippers came out and smothered him early (as they have done all series) with Patrick Beverley, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard spending time guarding him. Murray just could not find a rhythm and was 6-of-18 shooting through the first three quarters.
In the fourth, he was 3-of-3 from three (and finished the night with 26 points). Jokic was 4-of-4 in the fourth. As a team, the Nuggets were 7-of-9 from three in the fourth.
The Clippers shot 7-of-25 in the final frame.
“We missed a lot of open shots, a lot of open threes…” a frustrated Doc Rivers said postgame. “I thought our discipline defensively was far worse than our discipline offensively.”
Denver also was able to find footing because Rivers rested Kawhi Leonard longer at the start of the fourth (he finished with 36 points and played fantastic defense), sticking with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell longer. Murray and Jokic hunted those matchups, then got their confidence.
In the end, Murray scored, 26, Jokic 22, and Paul Millsap a critical 17. Paul George added 26 for the Clippers.
There will be attempts to say this game changes everything, noting that Denver came back from 3-1 down last round against Utah, while the Clippers franchise has never reached the conference finals in its 50 years of existence. Be careful about going down that road.
The Clippers controlled this game most of the way, learned a hard lesson about closing a good team out, and Los Angeles remains the deeper and more talented squad.
But now the Nuggets have hope.
As Red said in Shawshank Redemption, “Let me tell you something my friend, hope is a dangerous thing.”