The Nuggets are a problem. They seem entirely unfazed by dire circumstances. In the first round, they trailed the Utah Jazz, 3-1, in their best-of-seven series before coming all the way back behind the tag-team brilliance of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Now, against the Clippers, the Nuggets are trying to do it again.
No player in the series has been more fearsome than Jokic, who has averaged 25.8 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 53 percent from the field. On Sunday, the Nuggets outscored the Clippers by 62-30 over the game’s final 22 minutes. Jokic finished with 34 points.
“Give them credit,” Rivers said of the Nuggets. “They’re playing hard. We’re playing the third-best team in the West, and they’re good, they’re relentless, resilient. But what we’ve done to get the leads has worked continuously, and then we stop doing it.”
Specifically, he said, the Clippers stopped moving the ball. And as their lead washed away in the fourth quarter, Rivers searched for solutions. He even summoned Reggie Jackson, a reserve who had played sparingly in the series, off the bench. “We needed someone to make a shot,” Rivers said. (Jackson did not attempt one in 59 seconds of playing time.)
In the Clippers’ 50 years of existence, they have made 15 trips to the playoffs and eight appearances in the conference semifinals, dating to their days as the Buffalo Braves. But that is as far as they have ever gone.
The Clippers still hope that they can push through that barrier with one more win, but they have endured their share of obstacles. They have seldom seemed whole since the start of the season — so many months ago. George, for example, missed the team’s first 11 games after off-season shoulder surgery, then Leonard was sidelined with a knee contusion after George finally joined the starting lineup.