Clippers’ fourth quarter spoils Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic’s masterpiece in Game 3 – The Denver Post

The Clippers have too much talent to roll over.

The Nuggets were in command of Monday’s Game 3, poised to take an edge in their Western Conference semifinal series over the favored Clippers. And then Los Angeles flexed its depth, its star power and its defense.

The Clippers closed Game 3 on a suffocating run, seizing the contest 113-107. Game 4 is Wednesday night.

Over the final 8:29, the Clippers outscored the Nuggets 23-10 as Denver’s offense wilted under the enormous hands of Kawhi Leonard. His individual brilliance stifled the Nuggets’ rhythm and stuffed any attempt at a comeback.

It also spoiled Nikola Jokic’s masterpiece. Denver’s superstar center was questionable with a wrist sprain, but he buried any injury concerns with 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. His seven turnovers were the only blemishes on an otherwise incredible effort.

But Jokic didn’t have enough offensive help. Jamal Murray, his star sidekick, managed just 14 points on 5-for-17 shooting and nine assists. Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. added 18 points and 10 rebounds, adding a pivotal spark off the bench.

But Leonard, who finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds, was devastating in the fourth quarter. Paul George added 32 points and five 3-pointers.

Jokic parlayed his scintillating first half into a scorching third quarter as both teams locked horns. Regardless of his matchup – and the Clippers tried almost all of their big men – Jokic sizzled. He poured in 14 points, including a run of three 3-pointers in less than a two-minute span.

But George, Lou Williams and the Clippers kept coming. It was 84-83 before Porter rocked the Orlando bubble with a rim-rattling jam over Montrezl Harrell. His activity on the offensive glass was invaluable as the Nuggets searched for other options outside of Jokic.

And while the dunk was stunning, moments earlier Jokic had a one-handed, 30-yard dime to Jerami Grant that would’ve made John Elway blush. After the fireworks, the Nuggets took a thin 88-84 lead into the final quarter.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone carried the same defiant attitude into Game 3 that his team used to storm back from a 3-1 deficit in the first round.

“We don’t really care what anybody thinks about us, especially outside of Colorado,” Malone said. “It’s the belief that we have in our locker room. … And we’ve been here before. No one gives this team a chance to do a lot of things, but somehow, some way, we find a way to stay alive, to advance. And I’m sure most people wrote us off last round being down 3-1. I’m sure most people had us getting swept after a disappointing Game 1 loss.”

Their resiliency, in the face of injuries or adverse circumstances, has been a defining trait of Malone’s tenure – particularly over the last two years.

Gary Harris built off his four clutch 3-pointers in their Game 2 win and came out firing once again. His two early 3s backed up the confidence Malone has had in his two-way veteran.

“I believe in players, I stay with players,” Malone said. “And I know everybody back home wants to cast Gary Harris off the Nuggets’ island. I’m not going to do that. I believe in that kid. He’s helped us win a lot of games.”

Jokic allayed concerns about his injured wrist only minutes into Monday’s first quarter. Whether it was with jumpers, tough hook shots or devastating no-look passes, Jokic was in complete control.

He spearheaded the Nuggets’ 59-57 halftime lead, which would’ve been bigger had the Clippers not closed the second quarter on a 12-2 run. Denver, up by as much as 12, became lackadaisical on the offensive end as the Clippers converted multiple turnovers into easy buckets.

Jokic finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists over the first two quarters, and got ample help from Murray and Porter. The two combined for 22 points and four 3-pointers to help offset strong starts from George and Leonard.

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