It happened again.
The Clippers had a 19-point lead in the second half, the second straight game they were up double digits after halftime, and they had a chance to put the Nuggets away and advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Instead, they got tight and blew their advantage once more, falling 111-98. There will be a Game 7 on Tuesday for the right to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the next round.
The second half was a parade of errors for the Clippers, who couldn’t get their offense going in the third quarter despite scoring 63 points in the first half. The Clippers shot 4-of-20 in the period, missing a series of good looks at the rim and in the midrange, and it didn’t help that they kept sending Denver to the free-throw line, allowing the Nuggets to set their defense on the other end. A 73-55 lead turned into a 73-72 game, and it seemed like Denver had more fight the rest of the way.
Mike Malone said that Game 5 changed when Paul Millsap and Marcus Morris Sr. got in an altercation late in the first half. Doc Rivers said a similar shift in momentum took place today when Jamal Murray went down on a hard fall, and that the Nuggets were the more physical team afterwards.
Once Denver took the lead at 82-81, the Nuggets never trailed. In the fourth quarter, Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams shot 5-of-9, while the rest of the team shot 1-of-9. Meanwhile, Denver made seven threes alone in the period, eventually coasting to the win.
It didn’t seem like the Clippers would be in another situation like this. The Clippers got hit first, falling behind 8-2, but they responded immediately to go up 13-8 as Leonard and Paul George scored from all over the court. The team extended their advantage early on thanks to a boost from JaMychal Green, who was the first big off the bench has been important. He’s a bit of a bigger body to bully in the post, scored off of offensive rebounds, and also hit his first three. Williams’ playmaking was on point with second unit, even as he struggled to find his jump shot.
The Nuggets made their regular run against the Clippers bench unit to start the second quarter, cutting a 12-point lead to two. The Clippers were getting good shots, but just blew a few easy finishes. Meanwhile, they were allowing dribble penetration to the hoop on the other end. A sequence of three straight Gary Harris steals allowed Denver to finally get the margin to one possession, but then the Clippers reeled off a 10-0 led by their two stars.
Denver was already becoming undone when Michael Malone was hit with a technical foul, and the Clippers closed out the half in stellar fashion with two straight threes from Leonard and Williams to take a 16-point lead into the break.
Unfortunately, as Rivers said, the Clippers lost their pace in the second half, and then they lost their lead. They still have one more chance to advance to the next round.