Jamal Murray scored 27 points, Nikola Jokic had 26 points and 18 rebounds, and the Denver Nuggets were never behind on their way to beating the Los Angeles Clippers 110-101 in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals series on Saturday night.
Gary Harris and Paul Millsap each added 13 points to help Denver tie the series one game apiece.
Paul George scored 22 points for the Clippers, who got 15 from Ivica Zubac and suffered a rare off-night offensively from Kawhi Leonard. The two-time MVP in the NBA final had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists, but only shot 4 for 17.
Leonard had scored at least 20 points in 27 of his last 28 playoff games – and at least 29 in all seven playoff games this season.
The Clippers followed at 23 and got five in the fourth quarter, but no closer. Murray and Harris did 3-pointers on consecutive possessions on the line to keep the nuggets on top and Patrick Beverley, who was ejected with a pair of technicians and 1:04 left, helped seal the deal.
Murray made two free throws for the technicians, Grant added another for someone called and the lead was 11. George trickled the ball off his knee the next time Clippers had possession and the result was academic from there.
Denver set the tone from the start, starting with a 14-2 run and eventually climbing 44:23 before the first quarter was even closed. Jokic and Murray defeated the Clippers in the first 12 minutes, 26-25, alone.
It was 72-56 half-way, the Clippers' third largest break deficit of the season.
The Clippers just couldn't string enough points together at enough key times.
A big stretch came in the third quarter when Leonard was fouled and had a chance to hit the Clippers within 11. He missed both free throws, Murray made a knight on the next possession in Denver, Millsap scored about a minute later and just like that, Denver was ahead of 83-66.
The Clippers 'best run eventually came in the fourth, with George taking a personal 7-0 boost to reach the Clippers within 91-86 – the Nuggets' smallest lead since the 7-2.
Denver reacted immediately with the 10-0 run and pushed the lead back to 15 after two free throws by Jerami Grant with 5:22.
Nuggets: Denver had the best season for any quarter with 44 points in the first quarter. It was the second best goal in NBA playoff history by Nuggets after scoring 47 points in the fourth against the Los Angeles Lakers on May 14, 1985. Denver prevailed against the Clippers 45-27 with 3 pointers.
Clippers: The 23-point deficit was the largest in the bubble (21 against Brooklyn on August 9th) and the largest this season since a 28-point deficit against Minnesota on February 8th. The quarter points allowed were the fourth most Clippers in any period of the season. They allowed 45 three times and won two of those games.
History goes, of course, that a 2-0 hole would have been very difficult for Denver. The Nuggets have never recovered from 2-0 in a best-of-seven race in their NBA history. They won one of 13 series in the NBA after losing their first two games, and that was Seattle's best of five surprise in the 1994 first round. They won six of 19 previous series that won 1 : 1 were tied.
This is the ninth postseason series that Doc Rivers has coached the Clippers in. The Clippers split the first two games into eight of these nine matchups.
Game 3 is Monday.