MIAMI: Denver’s Nikola Jokic had game highs of 34 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists on Sunday (Monday in Manila), powering the Nuggets over the Los Angeles Clippers 111-98 to level their NBA playoff series.
The Nuggets, who also had 21 points from Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, recovered from a 19-point deficit in the third quarter to match the Clippers at 3-3 in the Western Conference semifinal, setting up a winner-take-all game seven on Tuesday.
“We don’t have pressure,” Jokic said. “All the pressure is on them. We have to play at a high level and give our best. To us it’s just another game seven. We’re going to go out there and play.”
It’s the fourth consecutive playoff series over two seasons in which the Nuggets have faced a seventh game. They are 5-0 in elimination games and have rallied from 16-point or worse deficits in the past three such games.
“The effort was amazing,” Jokic said. “We were down 16 last time, down 16 to Utah — we don’t want it but maybe we like it. We’re good at it. The whole team played well. It was an amazing game for us.”
The 25-year-old 7-foot (2.13m) Serbian center hit 13-of-22 shots, 4-of-6 from 3-point range and 4-of-5 from the free throw line.
“I think it’s defense,” Jokic said. “When we get a couple stops, we are flying and the ball is moving. When we start running the offense, we’re a really good team.”
The Clippers, who have squandered a 3-1 series edge, have never reached a conference final in their 50-year history. They missed 10 shots in a row in the third period during a 17-0 Nuggets run.
“They came down and scored or got fouled in the third quarter and we couldn’t buy a basket,” Clippers star Kawhi Leonard said. “We’ve just got to leave it all out on the floor, communicate and play hard on the defensive end.”
Paul George scored 33 points and Leonard, last year’s NBA Finals Most Valuable Player for Toronto, added 25 to lead the Clippers, who were outscored 64-35 in the second half.
“It was beautiful playing,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Then we stopped moving the ball, stopped playing. That’s what let them get back in the game.”
The Nuggets became the first team since the 1970 Los Angeles Lakers to force multiple game sevens in the same playoff run.
No team has ever recovered from a 3-1 deficit twice in the same playoff run but the Nuggets could be the first. AFP