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Leonard, Clippers beat Nuggets, take 3-1 series lead

Leonard, Clippers beat Nuggets, take 3-1 series lead
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA.—Kawhi Leonard has the Los Angeles Clippers a win away from the franchise’s first-ever trip to the Western Conference finals.

They’re not celebrating anything just yet.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do still,” Leonard said. “We’re still fighting.”

Leonard finished an assist shy of his first playoff triple-double and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets 96-85 in Game 4 on Wednesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the series.

Leonard filled up the stat sheet with 30 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots. He has scored 30 or more points six times during this post-season.

Reserve Montrezl Harrell added 15 points to help the Clippers, who can close out the Nuggets on Friday night.

The mood in the locker room on the precipice of such a momentous moment was subdued.

“Zero reaction,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We haven’t done anything yet.”

After building an 18-point lead in the second quarter, Los Angeles saw Denver storm back and tie it at 48 early in the third. The Clippers responded with a 21-5 run to gain some separation and then weathered a late run from Denver.

“Our continuity is growing,” said Paul George, who scored 10 points in nearly 27 minutes as he dealt with foul trouble. “This team is getting more and more comfortable together.

Nikola Jokic had 26 points and 11 boards for a Nuggets team that finds itself in an all-too-familiar situation. They were down in their first-round series against Utah before becoming the 12th team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit.

“This is a different opponent, obviously. A very talented, deep team,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “But I think we do have a confidence in being a resilient group and being a team that when everyone else has written us off, we have found a way.”

Los Angeles relied on stellar defence, holding Denver to 39.7 per cent shooting and forcing three shot-clock violations. The Nuggets never led in the game.

One of the leaders of the defensive charge was George, who helped hold Jamal Murray to 6-of-15 shooting and 18 points.

“We knew that when we were getting him,” Rivers said of George’s defensive tenacity. “It gets lost at times, with P.G., because he’s such a great shooter. The better shooter you are the more people forget how good you are defensively.”

There was a very minor dust-up midway through the fourth quarter when Jokic fell to the floor after feeling he was fouled. As he got up, he grabbed at Patrick Beverley, who was taking the ball up the floor. Beverley took a step toward Jokic before heading toward the bench.

It was Beverley who said after Game 3 that Jokic makes it hard on officials with “a lot of flailing.”
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