Chalk up another win for the salmon polos.
With the coaches wearing their best bench attire, the Clippers were also on their best behavior on the court, at least on the defensive end. They forced 18 Denver turnovers and limited the Nuggets to shooting below 40% for the night, winning 96-85 to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
The Clippers finally got off to a good start, and they built a 14-point advantage by the end of the first quarter. Kawhi Leonard was assertive on offense, leading the team in points (seven) and assists (two) while getting to his spots in the midrange and at the rim fairly comfortably. The Clippers missed a good chunk of open shots, which limited them to only 26 points in the opening period, but they were in control of the game thanks to their defensive effort. That was not the case in either Game 2 or 3.
Unfortunately, that defensive commitment fell apart in the second quarter, despite Doc Rivers actually playing lineups that had a chance to get stops. Rivers continued with his Game 3 adjustment of playing Patrick Beverley with the second unit and removing Reggie Jackson from the rotation altogether, but the Nuggets countered by getting their starters back into the game earlier as well.
The lone Denver bench player who did get a longer run in the second quarter was Michael Porter Jr., who almost single-handedly kept the Nuggets alive with his 15 first-half points. He hit a couple of catch-and-shoot threes and outscored the Clippers bench by himself 15-13, though LA still took a 48-40 lead into halftime.
The Clippers weren’t much better to start the third quarter and committed six fouls within the first three minutes as they struggled to re-establish their defensive principles. Denver even tied the game at 48 before the Clippers finally woke up again. With George on the bench after picking up his fourth foul, LA went on a 21-5 run. Leonard had seven points and two assists during that stretch, accounting for 12 points. Ivica Zubac was a monster defensively, gobbling up everything around the rim and staying vertical so that the team didn’t concede many free throws in the bonus.
The defense was especially good against Jamal Murray, who struggled to get any space against LA’s perimeter defenders and was out of sorts near the basket. He also had multiple turnovers on behind-the-back passes, adding insult to injury. The Clippers still didn’t shoot well in the third, making only 9-of-22 field goals, but the performance on the other end of the floor was enough for LA to extend the lead.
That offense came alive in the fourth quarter, as the team began to target Porter on defense. First, Lou Williams ran a pick-and-roll to get Montrezl Harrell an open dunk when Porter was late to rotate. Then, Williams got switched onto Porter and drew a foul in isolation. Finally, George caught Porter napping on his help again and fired a laser to Harrell for a dunk. That got the Clippers up 13 and forced Michael Malone to call timeout.
The Clippers were up by double digits almost the entire rest of the game. Now, the team is just one win away from the first conference finals appearance in franchise history.