LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA (AP) — Desperate times brings out the best in the Denver Nuggets.
So does a 35-year-old veteran willing to scuffle and stand his ground.
Paul Millsap ignited Denver with a fracas before scoring 14 of his 17 points in the third quarter, Michael Porter Jr made a late three-pointer and the Nuggets overcame a 15-point, second-half deficit to stun the Los Angeles Clippers 111-105 early yesterday in Game 5.
Don’t evict the Nuggets out of the bubble just yet. They’ve pulled to 3-2 in their best-of-seven series.
“Everybody continues to count us out,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “That’s the way we like it.”
This marked Denver’s fourth elimination-game win of this postseason, the team’s most since capturing six win-or-go-home games during the 1994 playoff run. The Nuggets came back from a 3-1 deficit to capture their first-round series against Utah.
Denver’s resiliency comes as no surprise to the Clippers.
“They played like the season was on the line. They had that approach,” Clippers standout Paul George said. “They were out there flying around and played hard. They made timely baskets they needed.”
One of the catalysts was Millsap. Denver — down 16 in the first half — trailed 61-46 with 9:42 remaining in the third before rallying behind his play. He made four of five shots and five of six free throws in the quarter.
Really, though, it was a big play he turned in before halftime that sparked the Nuggets. Millsap and Marcus Morris jawed at each other face-to-face late and had to be separated. Morris was given a technical foul and the Nuggets got some swagger.
“He stood up. His response to that situation really helped our team to respond,” Malone said. “That gave us a group toughness. Paul played really well for us tonight. That play was really impactful.”
So was this: Nikola Jokic’s three-pointer with 7:06 left to give the Nuggets their first lead.
And this: Porter hitting a deep three-pointer with 1:11 remaining to all but wrap it up. It was the only shot he made from the floor all night.
This after publicly talking about how he wanted a bigger role after Game 4. He responded at crunch time.
“The one thing you love about the kid is he’s not scared,” Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers said. “He showed that.”
Jamal Murray finished with 26 points, and Jokic added 22 points and 14 rebounds to lift the Nuggets.
Kawhi Leonard scored 36 points and George added 26 for the Clippers, who are searching for the franchise’s first appearance in a conference finals. They’re 0-6 all-time in games where they could clinch a trip to the conference finals.
“We’re in the driver’s seat,” George said. “We had them where we wanted them. We should’ve put them away. They came back and won the game. Comes down to Game 6.”