LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.— 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 the Nuggets with a fracas before scoring 14 of his 17 points in the third quarter, former MU player Michael Porter Jr. made a late 3-pointer and the Nuggets overcame a 15-point, second-half deficit to stun the Los Angeles Clippers 111-105 on Friday night 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 win their first-round series against Utah.
The 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 4 of 5 shots and 5 of 6 free throws.
Really, though, it was a big play he turned in before halftime that ignited 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 3-pointer with 7:06 left to give the Nuggets their first lead.
And this: Porter hitting a deep 3-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.
“What you love about Michael, whether it’s his youthful inexperience or not understanding the magnitude of the situation, but he has supreme confidence,” Malone said.
Jamal Murray finished with 26 points, and Jokic added 22 points and 14 rebounds to lift the Nuggets.
Game 6 is Sunday.
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 in games where they could clinch a trip to the conference finals.
“They played desperation ball. They didn’t have a choice,” George said. “Credit them for not wanting to go home. They played great down the stretch. We just had to match it.
“We’re in the driver’s seat. We had them were we wanted them. We should’ve put them away. They came back and won the game. Comes down to Game 6.”
Celtics top Raptors in Game 7, reach East finals
It took every bit of seven games, but Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics are headed to the Eastern Conference finals.
And they dethroned the NBA champions to get there.
Tatum scored 29 points, Jaylen Brown had 21 and the Celtics topped the Toronto Raptors 92-87 on Friday night in Game 7 of the East semifinal series.
Marcus Smart scored 16 points and Kemba Walker added 14 for third-seeded Boston. The Celtics will face the fifth-seeded Miami Heat in the East finals.
Fred VanVleet scored 20 points for Toronto, which got 16 from Kyle Lowry, 14 from Serge Ibaka, 13 from Pascal Siakam and 11 from Norman Powell. Former Jefferson City Jay OG Anunoby had seven points. The Raptors were bidding to become the seventh franchise in NBA history to win four consecutive Game 7’s.
Boston scored the first seven points of the fourth, taking an eight-point lead. The Celtics never trailed in the final quarter, though it was close all the way to the end.
Powell had a chance to tie it on a drive with just under a minute left, his layup erased by Smart with a block that preserved an 89-87 lead. Lowry fouled out on the next possession, a call the Raptors argued and challenged to no avail. Grant Williams missed both free throws, but Powell fouled Tatum going for the rebound.
Tatum made one of two, the lead was three and all Boston needed was one more stop.
The Celtics got just that; VanVleet was well short on a 3-point try, Kemba Walker sealed it with free throws with 7.9 seconds left, and Toronto’s reign was about to end.
It was exactly one year ago Friday when four Celtics — Walker, Smart, Brown and Tatum — were part of the USA Basketball team in China that fell apart in the fourth quarter of a Basketball World Cup quarterfinal against France, a loss that kept the Americans out of the Final Four of that tournament.
Not this time. Not this year.
Next week, there will be four NBA teams left standing. The Celtics will be one of them.
The chess match started from tip-off.
The Raptors started in a box-and-one on Walker, so the Celtics quickly subbed out Daniel Theis for Robert Williams early to get some more athleticism on the floor — and Boston quickly put together what became a 13-0 run on the way to an early 19-7 edge.
Toronto made the next adjustment, trotting out a lineup to end the first quarter that the Celtics hadn’t seen yet and promptly going on a 10-0 run. The Raptors eventually led by as many as seven; Boston then went on a 15-2 spurt to reclaim the lead and the Celtics ended up taking a 50-46 lead into the break.
The back-and-forth continued in the third. Boston pushed the lead to nine, Toronto scored the next eight, eventually took the lead before the Celtics claimed it back.
Boston led 72-71 going into the fourth, making this the 21st Game 7 in NBA history where the margin was zero or one points going into the final 12 minutes.