Saturday night in the NBA playoffs was all about teams tying things up. After the Toronto Raptors beat the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of their series to make it 2-2, the Denver Nuggets followed suit. They took down the Los Angeles Clippers, 110-101, in Game 2 to even their matchup at 1-1.
After getting blown out in Game 1, the Nuggets came out with something to prove in Game 2, dropping 44 points in the first quarter to jump out to a 19-point lead. Their lead grew to as much as 23, and though the Clippers fought back in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets were able to hang on. Jamal Murray led all scorers with 27 points, while Nikola Jokic added 26 points and 18 rebounds.
Paul George went for 22 points, and the Clippers had six players in double figures on the night, but it wasn't nearly enough. They were terrible on the defensive end in the first half, turned the ball over 17 times and shot 28.1 percent from 3-point range. It's tough to win playoff games with that combination of shortcomings.
Here are some key takeaways from the game:
Nuggets' fourth-quarter response
Denver was unstoppable early on, jumping out to a 19-point lead at the end of the first quarter. That's going to get headlines, and deservedly so, but it wasn't actually the biggest stretch of the game for the Nuggets. Instead, it was their response in the fourth quarter after the Clippers had gotten back in the game.
Early in the fourth, George drilled a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to five points. With more than eight minutes left in the game, the Nuggets were in the danger zone. They could have easily collapsed at that point, like we saw the Bucks do the other night when the Heat started making a fourth-quarter run.
Instead, the Nuggets showed some impressive resolve, and came up with an answer. Jokic got inside for a nifty reverse layup, then Gary Harris drained two threes, before Jerami Grant got to the line for two free throws to make it a 10-0 run. All of sudden they were back up by 15 with a little over five minutes to play.
The Clippers kept prodding, but that run by the Nuggets essentially ended the game.
Kawhi struggles for the first time in the playoffs
Coming off his Finals MVP performance last season, Kawhi Leonard has once again been unbelievable in the playoffs. He scored at least 29 points and shot at least 45.5 percent in each of the Clippers' first seven games. That streak came to an end in Game 2, as he put up just 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field.
Not only was it his worst game of this postseason, it was his lowest-scoring playoff performance since way back in 2016, when he was still with the Spurs. To be fair to Leonard, he was a bit unlucky on the night. A number of his misses rimmed in and out, and he probably deserved a few more calls than he got.
At the same time, Denver deserves credit for making things tough. Grant put in a grueling shift checking him all night long, and there were often help defenders showing up to offer assistance if Leonard got into the lane. In addition to holding Leonard to his worst shooting night of the postseason, the Nuggets also forced him into a playoff-high four turnovers.
Denver's role players step up
It's been the Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic show for the Nuggets so far in the playoffs. That duo is averaging 53.9 points per game, or just about half of what the Nuggets score on a nightly basis. It ended up being enough against the Jazz in the first round, but it's not really sustainable to consistently get that much offense from just two players.
While Murray (27 points) and Jokic (26) led the way once again in Game 2, this time they got some help. Four other Nuggets scored in double figures, with Paul Millsap and Harris going for 13 each, while Michael Porter Jr. came off the bench to chip in 11 and Monte Morris added 10.
That was the best scoring game of the postseason for Harris, who returned to action late in the first round after dealing with a hip injury. His contributions were especially important, as he knocked down three triples in the fourth quarter, including two as part of a huge 10-0 run that sealed the win.
If the Nuggets want to upset the Clippers in this series, they're going to need more nights like this where multiple guys step up and help Murray and Jokic carry the load.
Incredible quote by Jokic
Nikola Jokic on why he’s so patient on offense:— Mike Singer (@msinger) September 6, 2020
“I’m patient because I cannot really run fast. That’s my only option.”
Don't really have much to add, this is just a fantastic quote.