Denver Nuggets 111, Los Angeles Clippers 105: Three takeaways
The Nuggets refused to see their season come to an end and rallied back from down 16 points to force a Game 6 after beating the Clippers 111-105 Friday.
"We've been here before and our guys are tough. Everybody continues to count us out. That's the way we like it," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after the game.
Jamal Murray paced the Nuggets with 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Kawhi Leonard led all scorers with 36 points to go along with nine rebounds and four dimes.
READ MORE: Twitter celebrates Denver's Game 5 win
Denver will now be looking to potentially make history again as it hopes to stave off elimination for a second straight series after falling to a 3-1 deficit. Sunday (details TBD) presents another win-or-go home situation for Malone’s team.
"We're going to live to play in Game No. 6 and try to stretch this series out and try to win it," Malone said. "I know everybody's excited about the Lakers playing the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals, but we're hoping to have something to say about that.
Here are the takeaways from Game 5:
Paul breathes life into Nuggets
Millsap broke out of his playoff slump and had an incredible third quarter outburst to spark the Nuggets’ second half rally. The veteran exploded out of the break for Denver, putting up 14 points on an impressive 4 of 5 shooting in the quarter. It injected so much-needed life into Michael Malone’s team.
"I thought Paul Millsap was huge for us tonight," Malone said. "His physicality, his assertiveness, his toughness, I think our guys fed off of that. So it was great for our veteran to step up and play like that."
Prior to Friday’s contest, Millsap, who averaged 14.9 points per game for the Nuggets during last year’s playoffs, had struggled to find his scoring touch in the 2020 postseason. The 35-year-old was averaging just 8.0 points and 3.9 boards in this year’s playoffs. The forward got back to his best in Game 5, appearing to be motivated by a scuffle at the end of the first half with Marcus Morris.
"They started to run their mouths and it kind of woke us up a little bit," Millsap said. "I think that's what started it and then everybody started getting involved in the game."
Millsap was an inside-out terror for the Clippers in the third quarter, posting up inside, getting free-throw opportunities and hitting from downtown. It was exactly what the Nuggets needed from their veteran leader to keep their postseason hopes alive.
"He gave us life," Murray said.
Joker, Blue Arrow clutch threes prove crucial
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Nuggets had hit just five of their 18 attempts from downtown. Jamal Murray and Jokić ensured that cold streak wouldn’t extend to the final 12 minutes of the game.
The Nuggets’ star duo combined for five of the team’s seven threes in the final quarter. It was a game-changing development for the Nuggets, who rode their hot hand from downtown to gain their first lead of the game at 91-88 after trailing by as many as 16.
For Murray, it was a huge bounce back from his struggles in the first half. Denver’s lead guard shot just 5 of 15 for 15 points in the opening 24 minutes. He would finish the night with 26 points while hitting an impressive 5 of 7 from three.
Jokić hit both of his three-point attempts in the final quarter, continuing an impressive Western Conference semifinals for the All-Star center. Heading into Friday’s contest, the 25-year-old was averaging 24.8 points, 11 rebounds and 5.3 assists while hitting 51.3 percent from the floor and 40.9 percent from three.
Bench mob delivers
Millsap, Murray and Jokić will deservedly draw the headlines from Friday’s win, but the Nuggets’ reserves also warrant plenty of credit.
Denver’s bench outscored the Clippers’ bench, first in the league in reserves scoring (50 ppg), 29-16. More importantly, the group made timely plays on both sides that would help secure the win. Monte Morris had 12 points and three steals on 62.5 percent shooting.
"We went out there with nothing to lose...We were really lose and calm with each other in the locker room. I think it translated out there on the court and we played free. We played with confidence," Morris said.
Mason Plumlee and Torrey Craig also had several big moments defensively that helped the team come back from 16. Lastly, Michael Porter Jr. hit arguably the biggest three of the game to push the Nuggets’ lead to 105-100. The rookie also added five boards and tied the highest plus/minus of the game at +13.
"Everyone knows it wasn't the best shot selection, but something made me shoot it, so I shot it," Porter Jr. said of the three. "I'm just glad I was able to help my team in those last couple of minutes and come away with that dub."