James Harden? Jimmy Butler has a case as a leader for Miami. Anthony Davis? Damian Lillard won the vote for the ranking matches, but his team were eliminated too early.
Kawhi Leonard of the Clippers put an exclamation mark on his case with 30 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, four steals and a few blocks on Wednesday night. He was dominant on both sides. Denver has no answer for him.
Combine Kawhi Leonard with the Clippers’ best defensive outing in the series and Los Angeles won 96-85 to take a 3-1 lead over Denver. The fifth game will take place on Friday evening.
The Clippers are now one win away from a place the franchise has never been: the conference final.
“It’s not our focus so I don’t think anyone cares,” Doc Rivers said of being so close to WCF and franchise history. “It was a zero reaction. We haven’t done anything yet.
It’s wins like this that make the Clippers look like the best team in the NBA restart in Orlando. Los Angeles maintained Denver at 39.7% on team shooting and an offensive rating of 93.4. Nikola Jokic had 26 points on 11 of 23 shots, Jamal Murray had 18 points but 6 of 15, but overall the Nuggets players lost pace and struggled to look sharp. The Clippers’ defense was suffocating. The Nuggets were getting frustrated.
“We’re finally finding out that once our defense is there, it creates everything for us,” said Paul George.
“We’re still trying to come together,” Leonard said. “I don’t know where we are. I know we will continue to improve and that is the goal every day.
The Clippers met early and threw a cover over the Nuggets offense. The Nuggets scored 12 points in the first quarter, shot 25% overall and were 0 of 8 of three. The Clippers have built that lead to 18 points in the first half at one point.
Denver, to its credit, fought back, played its own solid defense and tied the game early in the third quarter.
But the role players around the Nuggets stars weren’t doing the job, apart from Michael Porter Jr., who had 15 points on 5 of 8 shots, and then after the game he seemed very frustrated at not touching anymore.
“We just went to [Jokic] and [Murray]… ”Porter Jr. said of Denver’s offense. “I just think to beat this team we have to get more players involved.”
He and Mike Malone will speak.
The Clippers increased the lead to 16 and were never again seriously threatened. Montrezl Harrell had 15 points and Lou Williams 12 off the bench. The Clippers’ score was balanced, but based on Leonard.
“I think our continuity is developing,” said George. “I think this team is more and more comfortable together. I think the challenge is to allow us to come together and we accept those challenges. We have fun with it and we grow at the same time. ”
The Clippers look like a team that will continue to grow in a place the franchise has never been.