The Denver Nuggets have survived to see another day after overcoming a 16-point first-half deficit and defeating the Los Angeles Clippers 111-105 in Game 5 of their Western Conference Semifinal on Friday at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex in Bay Lake, Florida.
Denver trailed 80-68 with 1:12 left in the third, but the Nuggets went on a 26-8 run that stretched into the middle of the fourth.
The Nuggets held on from there thanks in part to a clutch three-pointer from Michael Porter Jr. that put his team up 105-100 with 1:11 remaining.
Murray led Denver with 26 points, while Kawhi Leonard paced L.A. with 36.
Denver, which now trails the Clips 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, had lost two straight to L.A. prior to Friday's victory.
Nuggets C Nikola Jokic: 22 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists
Nuggets G Jamal Murray: 26 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists
Nuggets F Paul Millsap: 17 points, 6 rebounds
Clippers F Kawhi Leonard: 36 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists
Clippers F Paul George: 26 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists
Clippers F Marcus Morris: 12 points, 7 rebounds
Millsap Starts Denver Rally and Murray Continues It
Denver looked lethargic for much of the first three quarters, continuing a trend that has plagued it this series. The Nuggets had no answer for Kawhi Leonard on one end, and on the other, Jamal Murray struggled to get going as the rest of the team sans Nikola Jokic couldn't establish any offensive rhythm.
A different Nuggets team appeared in the final stages of the game, however, with veteran Paul Millsap leading the way.
Millsap scored 14 third-quarter points to keep the Nuggets in the ballgame. Down 12 at halftime, the Nuggets crawled to within seven before the fourth thanks largely to his efforts.
But it was a heated exchange with Marcus Morris Sr. late in the second quarter that showed Denver wasn't prepared to go down without a fight:
Nuggets coach Michael Malone praised the power forward postgame, per Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports.
"I think that was a huge play that nobody will probably talk about. When you have a seasoned veteran, who's had enough and wasn't just going to take it....that was a pivotal play, a turning point in the game."
He also noted that the moment gave the Nuggets "life," per Mike Singer of the Denver Post, and that the team "fed off it."
Perhaps Murray was one of those players as he turned back the clock to the first-round series against the Jazz, when he scored 50 points twice and averaged 31.6 points per game for the series.
Murray had nine points in the fourth in addition to four assists and three boards. He finished the night with a plus-nine and also hit the second-most cold-blooded shot of the game when he put Denver up 94-88 to cap a furious run:
Porter Jr. took care of the rest down the stretch to complete Denver's excellent comeback (and the Clips' collapse), but Murray noted how his team seems to turn on a switch when it's faced with difficult circumstances in a postgame interview with Jared Greenberg of NBA TV:
The Nuggets were down three games to one to the Jazz but won three straight to take that series. Doing the same thing against a better team in the Clips is a far taller order, but this team has proven to be very tough to put away.
Clippers' Second-Half Collapse Culminates With Porter Jr. Finishing the Job
A Kawhi Leonard three-pointer late in the third quarter initially appeared as if it would help put the game and series away:
But anything that could go wrong did for the Clippers from that moment forward as L.A. was outscored the Clippers 38-25 in the fourth quarter two nights after Denver struggled to score 40 in the first half en route to a 96-85 loss.
L.A. has clearly been the better team in this series save for Game 2, when the Nuggets emerged victorious with Murray and Jokic leading the way. But the team's inexplicable fourth-quarter collapse is troubling as the team looks ahead to rebound before Game 6.
Los Angeles scored just eight points in the first six-and-a-half minutes of the fourth quarter, which helped Denver turn a 80-73 deficit into a 94-88 edge after a Jamal Murray three-pointer.
It didn't help that the Nuggets' supporting cast outside Jokic and Murray, which has mainly be quiet all series, turned it up a notch in the fourth. Porter Jr. and backup big man Mason Plumlee connected on this bucket here, for instance:
Porter Jr. didn't do much of anything for the entire game, continuing a trend from Game 4 when he scored zero points in the second half. But L.A. needed a stop late with Porter possessing the ball and couldn't do it as the budding star drilled a three-pointer to give Denver the 105-100 edge:
Porter Jr. wasn't done. He then blocked a shot from seven-foot center Ivica Zubac at the rim before rebounding a Paul George missed three-point attempt after the Clips corralled the ball and got a second-chance look.
It was all over from there as the Nuggets made six free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
The Nuggets and Clippers will play Game 6 on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET, with ESPN televising the game. If Denver wins, the series-deciding Game 7 will go down Tuesday at a time to be determined.
The series winner will face the victor from the Western Conference Semifinal between the L.A. Lakers and Houston Rockets.
The Lakers lead three games to one, with the potentially series-clinching Game 5 occurring on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.
A Clippers-Lakers series would mark the first time the league's two Los Angeles teams faced each other in the NBA playoffs.
A Nuggets-Lakers Western Conference Finals would mark the third time in NBA history those two teams squared off in the round.
The two teams did so in 1985 and 2009, with the Lakers winning both series before emerging as the NBA champion.