After climbing a mountain in the first round of the NBA Western Conference playoffs, the Denver Nuggets know an even bigger peak awaits against the Los Angeles Clippers during Round 2.
“They have terrific defenders, Kawhi (Leonard), Paul George (and) Patrick Beverley,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “The last time they played us they got into us. Very physical team, so we’ll have our hands full with that matchup.”
The two clubs meet in Game 1 on Thursday inside the NBA bubble near Orlando.
The third-seeded Nuggets rallied from the brink of elimination and advanced with an 80-78 victory in Game 7 of their first round series against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.
Nikola Jokic’s bucket in the lane with 27.8 seconds remaining was the difference. Utah guard Mike Conley’s 3-pointer at the buzzer rimmed out, allowing Denver to become the 12th team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 hole and win a playoff series.
Jokic finished with 30 points and 14 rebounds, while Jamal Murray experienced a sluggish outing with 17 points on 7-of-21 shooting from the field and 1 of 6 on 3-pointers. Murray, who seemed to be slowed in the second half after taking a knee to his thigh from Utah’s Joe Ingles, scored 50, 42 and 50 points in the three previous games.
Denver also got a boost from guard Gary Harris, in his second game of the series after missing the abbreviated regular season and first five postseason games with a hip injury. Harris swatted the ball away from Donovan Mitchell as he drove the lane for a turnover with 8.4 seconds remaining.
“We don’t win this game without Gary,” Malone said, despite the guard missing eight of his nine shots and going 1 of 5 on 3-pointers to finish with four points.
The second-seeded Clippers advanced Sunday with a 111-97 win in Game 6 over the Dallas Mavericks. Leonard led the way for Los Angeles with 33 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and five steals.
Ivica Zubac added 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Paul George contributed 15 points, nine boards and seven assists. Reggie Jackson scored 12 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter.
“I thought these last few games we kind of figured out for us to be a successful basketball team the things that we need to do on the basketball floor, and we just got back to that,” said Clippers guard Lou Williams, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We got back to the basics of knowing what we need to do to win, and we bottled that up.”
Nobody in the series could contain Leonard, who scored at least 32 points in the last five consecutive contests. Leonard leads the Clippers with 32.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game in the playoffs. While he is shooting 53.8 percent from the floor, his 3-point accuracy is the only area where he is struggling, converting just 29.4 percent.
Still, he carried the Clippers at times against the Mavericks.
Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, who missed the first round with a strained calf, could make his postseason debut against the Nuggets. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said his defensive standout is likely to play Thursday but he would not commit to that.
The Clippers beat the Nuggets 124-111 in their last meeting on Aug. 12. The win allowed Los Angeles to clinch the conference’s No. 2 seed.
–Field Level Media