LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Kawhi Leonard blocked a dunk at the rim with one finger. It was part of a defensive effort that deserved a big hand for propelling the Los Angeles Clippers down the stretch.
Paul George scored 32 points, Leonard added 23 along with a big late block and the dynamic duo helped the Clippers rally for a 113-107 win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal series Monday night.
Leonard did a little bit of everything as he grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out six assists. He also had two blocks, including one late on a dunk attempt by Jamal Murray at the rim. Leonard’s middle finger appeared to get just enough of the ball to keep it out of the basket.
“I didn’t know it was one finger. It was a heck of a play. It was impressive,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I didn’t even know where he came from. It was a heck of a play.”
Los Angeles takes a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Wednesday.
With his team trailing 97-90 early in the fourth quarter, Rivers called a timeout to calm down the Clippers. Fueled by defense, Los Angeles went on a 14-4 run to take a 104-101 lead. The Clippers wouldn’t trail again.
“The game came down to one of the two teams was going to play some defense,” Rivers said. “For 3 1/2 quarters both teams were basically scoring. In the last six minutes it was our defense.
“We had our lapses. There’s no doubt about that. But overall, when we locked in we were really good.”
Lou Williams all but sealed the win with a driving layup that extended the lead to six with 2:04 left. George turned in a torrid shooting night. He finished 12 of 18 from the floor, including five 3-pointers.
“He did a great job. He came out there with energy, led us on both ends of the floor,” Leonard said of George. “We just followed his lead.”
Nikola Jokic finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists for Denver despite a sore right wrist that had him questionable before the game.
“They’re talented,” Jokic said. “They’re favorite on paper and everything, have maybe better starting unit, more players, whatever. Coach, whatever. … Today, we didn’t close well.
“The effort needs to be there to give ourselves a chance to win a game.”
The All-Star center had the pass of the night in the third quarter, when he grabbed a rebound, quickly spun around and sent a perfect, full-court strike to Jerami Grant for a dunk.
Jokic proved to be a handful for the Clippers with JaMychal Green, Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell picking up early fouls trying to cover him. Zubac fouled out with 4:07 remaining.
Asked to describe what makes Jokic so hard to guard, guard Patrick Beverley said he’s almost like Dallas standout Luka Doncic: “A lot of flailing. Puts a lot of pressure on referees to make the right call.”
Jokic shrugged off the assertion (after being told what flailing means).
“They had 26 free throws. We had 10,” Jokic said. “I mean, I’m just showing the ref that it’s a foul.”
Clippers: F Marcus Morris had 12 points. … The Clippers outscored the Nuggets 30-12 in fast-break points.
Nuggets: Denver outscored the Clippers by a 58-42 margin in points in the paint. … Rookie reserve Michael Porter Jr. finished with 18 points for the Nuggets, while Murray was held to 14 on 5 of 17 shooting. … Grant and Paul Millsap each had 11 points.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone plays up the “Us vs. The World” motivation card. He felt his team was written off against Utah after falling behind 3-1 in the series. He thought many believed the Nuggets would get swept after losing Game 1 in lopsided fashion before rebounding to take Game 2.
“No one gives this team a chance to do a lot of things,” Malone said. “We don’t really care what what anybody thinks about us, especially outside of Colorado. It’s the belief that we have in the locker room. It’s been there since day one.”
For now, Beverley remains on a minutes restriction as he heals from a strained left calf. He played a little more than 12 minutes in Game 1 and 15 minutes in Game 2. He was on the court for more than 20 minutes in Game 3.
“I do think each game, hopefully there will be an uptick,” Rivers said. “It’s better than not having him.”
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