After letting Friday’s Game 5 slip away, the second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers get a second chance to clinch the franchise’s first Western Conference Finals appearance.
But the third-seeded Denver Nuggets have gotten mighty good at avoiding elimination.
Those factors collide Sunday afternoon when the Clippers and Nuggets meet for Game 6 of their Western Conference semifinal series at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando with L.A. leading 3-2.
“We’ve been here before,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said following his team’s 111-105 victory in Game 5. “Our guys believe. We’re tough. Everybody continues to count us out. That’s the way we like it, and we live to die another day.”
Friday night, the Nuggets overcame a 15-point second-half deficit to win. Denver is now 5-1 in elimination games the past two seasons, including clawing back from a 3-1 deficit to win its first-round series against Utah in seven games.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said his team’s defensive discipline was not as sharp down the stretch of Game 5, and that they missed some wide-open shots.
Malone, meanwhile, called his team’s second-half defense “as good as I’ve seen.” Additionally, veteran forward Paul Millsap scored 14 of his 17 points in the third quarter — and got in a verbal spat with Marcus Morris just before halftime that Malone believes sparked his team after the break.
Stars Nikola Jokic (22 points, 14 rebounds, five assists) and Jamal Murray (26 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) then hit timely shots down the stretch. And rookie Michael Porter Jr., who publicly expressed his displeasure with his role in Game 4, hit a big 3-pointer to put Denver up by five with 1:11 to play and sank four free throws in the final seconds to help seal the win.
“We gave them a little bit of life, and they played desperation ball,” said Clippers star Paul George, who is averaging 21.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in this series. “They didn’t have a choice. … Credit them for not wanting to go home. They played great down the stretch.”
The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard finished Game 5 with 36 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals, and remains one of the NBA’s top scorers in these playoffs. When Leonard got a breather in the second half, Rivers said “the game changed.”
“We just didn’t score in that stretch,” Rivers said. “I thought that was a pivotal moment.”
The Clippers’ bench, normally one of the league’s best, struggled in Game 5. Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell totaled six points and three rebounds, while three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams scored four points on 2-of-10 shooting (0 of 5 from 3-point range).
The Nuggets felt like they gave Game 3 of this series away, after the Clippers rallied from seven points down in the fourth quarter to win. Rivers quipped that “maybe we’ve returned the favor” in Game 5.
Now, both teams are in the same situation entering Sunday.
The Clippers are trying to clinch their franchise’s first conference finals appearance.
The Nuggets are trying to stay alive.
“We’re in the driver’s seat,” George said. “We had them where we wanted them. Again, we should have put them away. They came back. They won the game. It comes down to Game 6.”
–Field Level Media