Kawhi Leonard finished an assist shy of his first playoff triple-double and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets 96-85 in Game 4 on Wednesday night to move a step closer to their first Western Conference finals.
Reserve Montrezl Harrell added 15 points to help the Clippers take a 3-1 lead. They can close out the Nuggets on Friday night.
After building an 18-point lead in the second quarter, Los Angeles saw Denver storm back and tie it at 48 early in the third. The Clippers responded with a 21-5 run to gain some separation.
Nikola Jokic had 26 points and 11 boards for a Nuggets team that finds itself in an all-too-familiar situation. They were down in their first-round series against Utah before becoming the 12th team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit.
Los Angeles relied on stellar defence, holding Denver to 39.7 per cent shooting and forcing three shot-clock violations. The Nuggets never led in the game.
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One of the leaders of the defensive charge was Paul George, who helped hold Jamal Murray to 6-of-15 shooting and 18 points. George scored 10 points in nearly 27 minutes as he dealt with foul trouble.
“We knew that when we were getting him,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of George’s defensive tenacity. “It gets lost at times, with P.G., because he’s such a great shooter. The better shooter you are the more people forget how good you are defensively.”
There was a minor dust-up midway through the fourth quarter when Jokic fell to the floor after feeling he was fouled. As he got up, he grabbed at Patrick Beverley, who was taking the ball up the floor. Beverley took a step toward Jokic before heading toward the bench.
It was Beverley who said after Game 3 that Jokic makes it hard on officials with “a lot of flailing.”