Paul George scored 32 points and the Los Angeles Clippers turned up the heat defensively Monday in a 113-107 victory over the Denver Nuggets for a 2-1 lead in the NBA Western Conference semi-finals.
Kawhi Leonard added 23 points, 14 rebounds and six assists for the Clippers, coming up big on both ends of the floor as Los Angeles powered to the finish in the see-saw battle.
Denver, blown out in game one but coming off a convincing game-two victory, led 78-68 midway through a third quarter that featured nine lead changes.
It was tied up at 101-101 with less than five minutes remaining and the Clippers closed it out with a 12-6 scoring run.
“The game came down to one of the two teams was going to play some defense,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.
“For three and a half quarters both teams were basically scoring and the last six minutes it was our defense.”
Leonard contributed a breathtaking block, reaching to deny Jamal Murray’s dunk attempt with his fingertips at the rim with 1:47 left to play.
“That play by Kawhi was amazing,” Rivers said. “I don’t even know where he came from.”
Nikola Jokic scored 32 points with 12 rebounds and eight assists for Denver and Murray scored 14.
The Nuggets had their chances late, but after Denver took a 97-90 lead early in the fourth quarter the Clippers came back with eight straight points.
Ivica Zubac’s dunk – assisted by Leonard – tied it at 101-101 and he followed with a free throw to give the Clippers the lead for good.
“We got stops,” George said. “It’s going to be a battle, [Denver] is a great offensive team.
“We’re up for the challenge.”
‘Job isn’t done’
There was no suspense in the Boston Celtics’ 111-89 blowout victory over the Toronto Raptors, which pushed the reigning NBA champions to the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
The Celtics, who had lost two straight as the Raptors clawed their way back into the best-of-seven series, took a 3-2 lead and can clinch a place in the conference finals with a win on Wednesday.
They dominated defensively to hold the Raptors to 20 per cent shooting in the first quarter, emerging from the opening period with a 25-11 lead.
The Raptors never recovered from the early body blow.
The Celtics’ 37 points in the second quarter were two more than the Raptors managed in all of the first half.
They trailed 62-35 at half-time, and despite a noticeable uptick of energy to start the third, there was too much ground to make up.
“The job isn’t done,” said Jaylen Brown, who led all scorers with 27 points. He grabbed six rebounds and made three of Boston’s five steals. “We’ve got to come out and play with the same intensity.”
Kemba Walker added 21 points, four rebounds and seven assists, Jayson Tatum delivered 18 points and 10 rebounds, Daniel Theis and reserve Brad Wanamaker scored 15 apiece and Marcus Smart chipped in 12 for the Celtics.
Boston coach Brad Stevens kept his starters in for much of the fourth quarter, comfortably keeping the lead in double digits.
Fred VanVleet led the Raptors with 18 points, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam scored 10 apiece.
OG Anunoby, who drained the buzzer-beating three-pointer that gave the Raptors their first win of the series in game three, scored seven points – all in the first quarter.
“Our offense, we didn’t make shots, we weren’t aggressive enough,” Lowry said. “They were very comfortable from the jump. We weren’t as assertive as we should have been.”
Lowry brushed off suggestions that the Raptors were feeling the effects of the every-other-day schedule in the NBA’s quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida.
“Nope,” he said when asked if fatigue played a part. “We just didn’t play well enough.”