Clippers go the PG route to winning Game 3

The fourth quarter is gut-check time. For the Los Angeles Clippers, that means upping their defensive play. In Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal matchup against the Denver Nuggets, the Clippers put on their hard hats and locked down one of the most offensives in the NBA.

The Clippers held the Nuggets Big Three of Jamal Murray, Paul Milsap and Nikola Jokic to a combined eight points in the final period and limited Denver’s offense to 19 points in the quarter to get by with a 113-107 win. The Clippers punctuated their series advantage win when Kawhi Leonard went up to the sky to block Murray’s attempted one-hand dunk near the end of the game.

“We held a team to 107 points, one of the best offenses in the league, so I would say that was good defense,” Clippers guard Patrick Beverley said. “But overall, we did what we needed to do. We got key stops when we needed to get key stops, and we got key rebounds when we needed to get key rebounds. Give them a lot of credit. Coming from a seven-game series to the type of play, they come out here, energetic, you have to give them a lot of credit, a lot of credit. Well-coached. Good players. Good bigs. Good guards. Got to give them a lot of credit.”

Murray, who scored just four points in the fourth quarter, was all set for one of his distinguished monster jams as he went hard to the basket. Murray surely didn’t think or miscalculated Leonard’s presence and his audacity to go toe-to-toe with him on this play. As it turns out, instead of getting posterized, Leonard wound up rebuffing Murray in a big way right at the rim.

To Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, Leonard’s standout play signified the defensive effort his team put forth in that final quarter to win the ballgame.

“Just all our defense down the stretch,” Rivers said. “The game came down to, one of the two teams was going to play some defense, and for three and a half quarters, you know, both teams were basically scoring. And then the last six minutes it was our defense. I thought that play by Kawhi was amazing. I didn’t know it was with one finger. I thought he just blocked it but it was impressive. I didn’t even know where he came from, so it was a heck of a play.”

Speaking of a heck of a play, Paul George was making quite a few of those in this third installment of the best-of-seven series. In just over 40 minutes of action, George scored 32 points on 14 of 18 shooting from the field. George’s performance in Game 3 was also an indication of well the Clippers shot the ball from the field.

As a team, the Clippers shot 54 percent against the Nuggets. It was George who led the way, but the team’s starters did a much better job of getting into an early offensive rhythm, said Rivers.

“I thought at least offensively, we were so much better. We moved the ball, I think we shot 55 percent, 54 points. So I thought offensively we were so much more efficient than we were the other night and I thought, you know, PG (Paul George) really set the tone,” Rivers said.

The Clippers brought in George and Leonard to improve their chances of going deep in the postseason and probably win an NBA championship in the process. If the Clippers are going to get over the playoff hump and advance to the Western Conference it will be because of their defense.

And when it came down to it, the Clippers defense went to another level to close out the Nuggets. After giving up 32, 27, and 29 points, respectively, in the first three quarters of the ballgame, the Clippers went to work on the defensive side of the ball. As a result, the Clippers limited the Nuggets to 31 percent shooting the ball in the final period.

“We were not going to be the team that lost tonight,” George said.

Leonard’s stuffing of Murray’s dunk was a clear indicator of that.

“That’s an extra-long middle finger. Like it kept growing or something,” George said. “That’s Kawhi, man. Big-time player, in the mix is something else. But I’ve got to help him. I’ve got to help him. Kawhi’s done more than enough down this stretch. Some nights it’s not going to be his night and I have to be myself. I have to help him, pull the weight, make plays, make shots. It’s just, you know, give him credit, getting us this far, but he can’t go into every game with that pressure that he’s got to be great on both ends. Offensively, some nights it’s going to be rough. It was [an] emphasis when I saw, you know, I had it going early, I just kept attacking, stayed aggressive. Just let the game come to me.”

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