Nuggets thriving in face of adversity

All-Star centre Nikola Jokic had game-highs of 34 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists, leading the Denver Nuggets to a 111-98 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Whoever wins Game 7 today will take on the top seeds in the Western Conference, the Los
All-Star centre Nikola Jokic had game-highs of 34 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists, leading the Denver Nuggets to a 111-98 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Whoever wins Game 7 today will take on the top seeds in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers, for a place in the Finals. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Denver will reach West Finals for first time in 11 years if they beat Clippers in Game 7 today

ORLANDO • The Los Angeles Clippers are finding Denver a hard nugget to swallow right now, but the truth is, the resilient Nuggets hardly choke even when they are trailing by a huge margin.

Denver's Nikola Jokic had game-highs of 34 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists on Sunday, powering the Nuggets to a 111-98 win over the Clippers to level their National Basketball Association (NBA) Western Conference semi-final series.

The Nuggets, who also had 21 points from Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, recovered from a 19-point deficit in the third quarter to match Los Angeles at 3-3, setting up a winner-take-all Game 7 today.

"We don't have pressure," Jokic said. "All the pressure is on them. We have to play at a high level and give our best. To us, it's just another Game 7. We're going to go out there and play."

It was the fourth consecutive play-off series over two seasons in which the Nuggets have faced a seventh game. They are 5-0 in elimination games and have rallied from 16-point or worse deficits in the past three such games.

"The effort was amazing," Jokic added. "We were down 16 last time, down 16 to Utah - we don't want it but maybe we like it. We're good at it. The whole team played well. It was an amazing game for us."

The 2.13m Serbian centre hit 13 of 22 shots, 4-of-6 from three-point range and 4-of-5 from the free-throw line.

"I think it's defence," he said. "When we get a couple of stops, we are flying and the ball is moving. When we start running the offence, we're a really good team."

The Clippers, who have squandered a 3-1 series edge, have never reached a Conference Finals in their 50-year history and they missed 10 shots in a row in the third period during a 17-0 Nuggets run.

"They came down and scored or got fouled in the third quarter and we couldn't buy a basket," Clippers forward and Finals Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard said.

  • 3-1

  • Denver recovered from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7 by tying the series against Los Angeles at 3-3. They will attempt to become the first team to win for the second time after falling behind 3-1, having done so against Utah in the first round.

"We've just got to leave it all out on the floor, communicate and play hard on the defensive end."

Forward Paul George scored 33 points and Leonard added 25 to lead the Clippers, who were outscored 64-35 in the second half.

"It was beautiful playing," their coach Doc Rivers said. "Then we stopped moving the ball, stopped playing. That's what let them get back in the game.

"We have the right formula. We just lost it. We lost our pace."

The Nuggets became the first team since the 1970 Los Angeles Lakers to force multiple Game 7s in the same play-off run.

No team have ever recovered from a 3-1 deficit twice in the same play-off run, but Denver could be the first, following their 4-3 win over the Utah Jazz in the first round.

"I'm running out of superlatives to say about our team. I love our team. I love our toughness," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

"We were down 16 at half-time. We weren't down on ourselves. We knew what we were going to have to go through.

"The question was how are we going to get out of it. One of the best third quarters I can remember in my five years."

Like the Clippers, the Nuggets have never won a championship and have reached the Western Conference Finals only three times previously, the last coming in 2009.

So Malone has no idea what gives his team the ability to climb out of deep deficits other than "inner belief".

"We believe we have what it takes to win a championship," he said. "But we have a lot of work to do."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2020, with the headline 'Nuggets thriving in face of adversity'. Print Edition | Subscribe