LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida (AP) – Kawhi Leonard took a win from the Los Angeles Clippers on the franchise's first trip to the Western Conference Finals.
You're not celebrating anything yet.
"We still have a lot to do," said Leonard. "We're still fighting."
Leonard finished an assist before his first playoff triple double and the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Denver Nuggets 96-85 in Game 4 on Wednesday night to take a 3-1 lead.
Leonard filled the statistics sheet with 30 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots. He has scored 30 or more points six times this postseason.
Reserve Montrezl Harrell added 15 points to help the Clippers close the nuggets on Friday night.
The mood in the changing room on the edge of such an important moment was subdued.
"No response," said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. "We haven't done anything yet."
After Los Angeles built an 18-point lead in the second quarter, Denver stormed back and tied it with 48 points early in the third quarter. The Clippers responded with a 21-5 run to reach a breakup and then weathered a late Denver run.
"Our continuity is growing," said Paul George, who scored 10 points in nearly 27 minutes when dealing with nasty issues. “This team feels more and more comfortable together.
Nikola Jokic had 26 points and 11 boards for a Nuggets team that is in an all-too-familiar situation. They were down in their first round against Utah before becoming the 12th team in NBA history to break a 3-1 deficit.
“This is obviously a different opponent. A very talented, deep team, ”said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. "But I think we have the confidence to be a resilient group and team, and when everyone else has written us off, we've found a way."
Los Angeles relied on excellent defense, holding Denver 39.7% while shooting and forcing three shot clock violations. The nuggets never resulted in the game.
One of the defensive leaders was George, who helped Jamal Murray with 6-of-15 and 18 points.
"We knew that when we got him," said Rivers of George's defensive tenacity. "It gets lost sometimes with P.G. because he's such a great shot. The better you are, the more people forget how good you are defensive."
There was very little dust in the middle of the fourth quarter when Jokic fell to the ground after feeling like he was fouled. When he got up he grabbed Patrick Beverley, who took the ball to the floor. Beverley took a step toward Jokic before going to the bank.
It was Beverley who said after Game 3 that Jokic was making "a lot of thrashing" difficult for officials.
Clippers: Reserve G Lou Williams finished 12th … The Clippers had a 38-22 point lead in the suit.
Nuggets: Murray finished with seven assists and Jokic six. … Denver was 9 out of 27 from 3 point range.
Nuggets striker Michael Porter Jr. scored 13 of his 15 points in the second quarter. After half time he had no more basket.
When asked what the Clippers did differently in the second half, Porter said, "I just didn't touch the ball. They didn't do anything differently."
Rivers tried to find a suitable comparison for Jokic, a center that likes to consider itself a point guard.
"I don't know if there's a comparison. He's got a little bit of everyone," Rivers said. "He's got the footwork and movements of (Hakeem) Olajuwon, the lanky and … goofy intelligence of Kevin McHale. Shoot, man, he's just good, he's the best passing big I've ever seen.
"He's very good and it's very frustrating to watch movies."
REST OR TRAVEL?
Rivers does not see any movement within the bubble as positive in these series. However, he did point out that there is less rest every other day in competitions, which could negate the positives.
"My guess it probably balances it all out," said Rivers. "If you gave a player a travel day and two days, they would probably do that (play) every other day."
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