Denver Nuggets 111, Los Angeles Clippers 105 — Behind a double-double from Nikola Jokic and 26 points from Jamal Murray, Denver knocked off LA on Friday evening to stave off elimination and force a Game 6 in the Western Conference semifinals.
But they almost didn’t.
LA had the lead for about 80, maybe 85% of this game. They were up five after the first quarter, had the lead into double digits for most of the second including their game high lead of 16 points late in the half, and were up seven at the end of the third, but that was also because Denver’s Paul Millsap threw in two free throws right before the horn.
Seems like good stuff for Doc Rivers and the Clippers, but it wasn’t. Denver’s comeback had already started, seeing as LA was up 80-67 with 1:25 left in the third. The fourth quarter started with a Lou Williams turnover — an omen if there ever was one — and that immediately turned into a layup for Monte Morris. Denver continued to whittle away, and at the 7:06 mark of the fourth quarter, a Jokic triple made it 89-88 favoring the Nuggets. It was their first lead of the game, one that they would never lose.
For those of you counting at home, that’s Doc’s guys giving up a 22-8 run in about six minutes.
Denver’s lead would peak at eight points when Jokic hit another three, just his second of the night on six attempts, with 3:47 left to go. Of course, this is the playoffs, and the Clippers had a chance to end this series if they won. They gave it a try, and with 1:58 to go, Kawhi Leonard had pulled them within two at 102-100. Then they missed three straight long range attempts with Ivica Zubac getting a dunk blocked by Michael Porter, Jr., along the way in there, and suddenly there was 30 seconds left and the Clips were down five. That was all she wrote.
The Clippers let a great performance from Leonard go to waste after he finished with 36 points on 12-for-24 shooting to go with nine rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Paul George added a 26/6/6 night, but that wasn’t enough.
Almost didn’t, though!
The Sun were looking pretty good for most of this one against the Dream, who were fighting for their playoff lives. After Atlanta broke the ice on the game, Briann January put Connecticut out front pretty quickly thereafter, and the Sun would manage to hold that lead til the end of the quarter (20-15!) and then on to halftime. The Dream did nick two points out of the lead in the second quarter, but the Sun started off the third with a triple from January and a jumper from DeWanna Bonner to boost themselves into an eight point lead, 41-33.
Then, at the 5:19 mark of the third, Shekinna Strickland buried a three to put Atlanta back out in front, 46-43, and things were officially going back for the Sun. Connecticut would bounce back to first tie the game on a three-pointer from Marquette’s very own Natisha Hiedeman before Bonner hit a layup to put the Sun out front, 54-52.
That was pretty much the last good news of the game for Connecticut.
It would be a 56-54 Atlanta advantage at the end of the third, and by the 5:30 mark of the fourth, that lead would grow to 13 at 72-59. That’s a 20-5 run by the Dream, which is generally speaking not what you want to give up down the stretch in your regular season finale. The Sun would be able to narrow things to 10 points repeatedly the rest of the way, but they couldn’t get it closer than that until the closing moments when it didn’t matter any more.
Atlanta was lead by 22 points from rookie sensation Chennedy Carter, but I’m required by blog bond to point out that Dream head coach (and former Marquette guard!) Nicki Collen only went seven deep for most of this game outside of the 1:47 of playing time that former Creighton start Jaylyn Agnew got.
17 points from Bonner led the Connecticut score sheet here, and she added eight rebounds, too. Natisha Hiedeman got a whole bunch of run in this game because Jasmine Thomas was limited to just five early minutes. Hiedeman went over 27 here, scoring 13 points (tied for second best on the team) and added a rebound and four assists, too.
Up Next: Well, for Connecticut, we wait. Their regular season is over, but there are still regular season games all the way through Sunday, including what could be a very important Washington/Atlanta contest to wrap up all the regular season action in the Wubble. That game could decide the eighth and final playoff spot by the time we get there. We’l have to wait and see.
Game 6 for Nuggets/Clippers comes your way on Sunday afternoon. As things look right now, that’s scheduled to be the only game of the day with a noon Central start on ESPN.