The Denver Nuggets are still alive. After trailing by as many as 16 points late in the first half, the Nuggets battled back and used a dominant fourth quarter to take down the Los Angeles Clippers, 111-105 in Game 5 of their second-round series. Game 6 is set for Sunday afternoon.
Nikola Jokic finished with 22 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in another stellar performance, while Jamal Murray added 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in one of his best games all series. But while those two led the way as per usual, and helped close the show, the Nuggets owe Paul Millsap a huge thank you. The veteran forward stepped up in a major way in the third quarter, scoring 14 of his 17 points in the frame to give the Nuggets some life and get them back in the game.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were dominant for the first three quarters, and combined for 62 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists. But late in the third, the Clippers started to get a bit lackadaisical, and that continued into the fourth. By the time they really woke up and locked back in on the defensive end, the Nuggets had the lead, and the Clippers couldn't get it back. They'll have to wait until Game 6 to try and clinch their first conference finals appearance in franchise history.
Here are three key takeaways from the game:
1. Nuggets keep fighting
The Nuggets went down 3-1 in the first round to the Jazz, but never gave up, and pulled off an impressive comeback in that series to keep their season alive. Heading into Game 5 against the Clippers, they found themselves in the same position, albeit against a much better team.
It didn't look like there would be any sort of major comeback this time, though, as the Clippers jumped out to an early lead, which they pushed up to 16 points late in the second half. L.A. was in complete control on both ends of the floor, and it just didn't seem like there was any way back for Denver.
Honestly, at that point, it would have been understandable if the Nuggets packed things in. Charles Barkley on the halftime show even guaranteed that the Clippers would win by 20. Only, that's not what happened. The Nuggets just kept hanging around, getting a bucket here, and bucket there to make sure it didn't get out of hand, and then went on a run late in the third to get it into single digits.
The Nuggets kept up that energy early in the fourth, and with seven minutes left they took the lead on a rainbow three by Jokic. They never trailed again, outscoring the Clippers 38-25 in the fourth quarter. Denver deserves a ton of credit for the spirit they showed in this game, not only to come back and take the lead, but to hold off the Clippers down the stretch.
2. Millsap steps up
No one is expecting Paul Millsap to put up big numbers anymore, but even by his current standards, he has not looked like himself in the bubble. Through 12 games in the playoffs, he's putting up just 8.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, while shooting 45.5 percent from the field.
His inability to be a reliable member of the supporting cast has been one of the Nuggets' major problems this postseason. But on Friday night, there were no such issues. Millsap finished with 17 points and six rebounds in by far his best game of the playoffs, and helped key the Nuggets' turnaround starting in the third quarter.
With the Nuggets trailing by 12 in the middle of the third, Millsap scored eight straight for Denver, to help cut the deficit to six points. Then, after the Clippers responded and pushed the lead back up to 12, Millsap responded with a six-point run. He finished with 14 of his 17 points in the third, and simply wouldn't let the Nuggets fall apart.
Jamal Murray said after the game that Millsap "gave us life," and that's a pretty good way to sum things up. Millsap barely even played in the fourth quarter, but he put Denver's stars in a position to close the show.
3. Nuggets' fourth-quarter 3-point shooting
One of the main reasons the Clippers were able to build such a big lead in this game is because they were dominating from the 3-point line. Through the first three quarters, the Clippers were 13 of 29, while the Nuggets were 5 of 18. There were other factors, obviously, but it's hard to win when you're being outscored by 24 points from the 3-point line.
In the fourth quarter, however, that all flipped. Denver heated up in a major way, knocking down seven of their nine attempts, while the Clippers couldn't buy an outside shot, shooting 3 of 13. Again, this wasn't the whole story, but it was a big part. If you want to come back from a 16-point deficit, you have to hit some outside shots, and the Nuggets did just that.
One of the main ways the Nuggets were able to get going, is through their pick-and-roll. On two early possessions in the fourth, Jamal Murray -- who finished with four 3s in the frame -- took advantage of Montrezl Harrell dropping, and hit pull-up triples. Then later in the quarter, when the Clippers committed both defenders to Murray, he kicked it out to a wide-open Jokic.
Then, of course, there was Michael Porter Jr.'s dagger with just over a minute to play -- a fitting ending after his postgame comments the other night.