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BBNBA: Clippers hold Murray in check, take 2-1 series lead

(Andrew d. Bernstein | NBAE via Getty Images)

(Andrew D. Bernstein | NBAE via Getty Images)

Good morning, folks. Kawhi Leonard flipped the bird in response to a Jamal Murray dunk attempt. Let’s talk NBA Bubble.

RECAP

Clippers lockdown on Murray, lead series 2-1

About halfway through the first quarter of this game, I texted one of my friends and told him that one of these teams is going to shoot 50 percent and still lose. While I ended up being wrong (the Nuggets shot 46.8 percent), my underlying point still stood: in a series defined by scoring, your offense can only get you as far as your defense allows it. The Los Angeles Clippers believed in the same concept, locking in on defense down the stretch against the Denver Nuggets to secure a 113-107 victory and a 2-1 series lead.

But if you enjoy sharpshooting efficiency over defense, the opening stages sure were thrilling. Both teams combined to start the night 14-20 from the field and the score was 19-18 roughly halfway through the first period. After 12 minutes, the Clippers were leading 33-32 and both teams were humming on offense, although the rhythm began to settle down from there.

The bout was tightly contested from start to finish, with neither side controlling the feel until late in the fourth quarter. The Clippers were trailing 97-90 with about eight minutes left in the game before Kawhi Leonard and Paul George rallied their squad to victory, outscoring Denver 23-10 to close the game out. The superstar duo’s collective defense–along with fellow Clippers guard Patrick Beverley–on former Wildcat Jamal Murray was impressive all night long, but they took it to another level when the nerves were at its highest. Leonard actually blocked a Murray dunk attempt with his middle finger, a slam that would have put Leonard on a poster in the room of every little kid in the state of Colorado. Instead, we witnessed this…

”I didn’t know it was one finger. It was a heck of a play. It was impressive,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said after the gam. ”I didn’t even know where he came from. It was a heck of a play.”

Had Murray been successful, it would have put his Nuggets team down just four with under two minutes remaining. However, the momentum quickly shifted back to L.A.’s favor as Leonard iced the game away with closing free-throws. Murray wound up with just 14 points on a 5-17 shooting clip, eerily reminiscent to his Game 1 outing where he managed just 12 points on 5-15 shooting. The Clippers had his number once again on Monday after watching him pop off for 27 points in Game 2. The incredible length and intensity from the Clippers wings aren’t going to get any easier for Murray. This isn’t similar to the series against Utah where he only had to deal with the likes of Royce O’Neale and Joe Ingles. L.A. boasts three of the top 15 perimeter defensive players in the world.

Nikola Jokic has been forced to take over games for Denver now with Murray fighting every possession for decent looks. He’s done an excellent job in the previous two games, recording 32 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists on Monday. However, when the opposing team shoots over 54 percent from the field, those stats don’t only get you so far. Leonard and George combined for 55 points.

I have to highlight this beautifully disgusting throwdown that Michael Porter Jr. ushered in on Montrezl Harrell, too. It’s too good not to see at least twice.

Celtics take Game 5 in impressive fashion

The Boston Celtics put on a defensive display of perfection against the defending champion Toronto Raptors, solidifying an already apparent theory: they are more than capable of winning the NBA Finals right now. The Celtics never trailed in a 111-89 Game 5 win that now puts them ahead in the series 3-2.

From the opening tip, Boston shot down any hope of this game coming down to 0.5 seconds left on the clock. The offense didn’t get rolling until the second quarter, but it was the Celtics defense across the floor that made every Toronto shot attempt uncomfortable. The Raptors scored just 11 first-quarter points, tying the second-worst showing during any quarter of a playoff game in franchise history, and nothing was easy to come by. Boston quickly jumped to a 25-11 lead heading into the second period and continued to inflate the advantage from there, outscoring Toronto 37-24 throughout the next 12 minutes to take a sizable 62-35 lead at the half.

Toronto missed more shots right at the rim than I can remember watching from a playoff game in a long time. Through the team’s first 18 possessions, they were 2-15 from the field with five turnovers. But big credit is due to the stifling Celtics defense, which was relentlessly hounding ball handlers and contesting anything close at the rim. The Raptors couldn’t so much as attempt a shot within the 3-point line during the first quarter, let alone fire up a clean look from deep.

The second-half was rather even in terms of scoring, and Toronto came out with much more energy in the third quarter, but it was far too late for a comeback; the damage had already been done. Jaylen Brown recovered from a poor shooting performance in Game 4, dropping a game-high 27 points on 10-18 shooting. Four other Celtics players added at least 15 points while Marcus Smart contributed another 12. Boston now takes a commanding 3-2 series lead with a chance to close things out on Wednesday.

Other notes from the Bubble

  • According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA has announced that they will allow coaches and staff members to bring guests inside the Orlando Bubble beginning with the Conference Finals, which could start as soon as the end of this week. Last Monday, players were finally able to see their family members for the first time since entering the Bubble back in early July. It resulted in many heartfelt moments raising the spirits of an otherwise depressing social media feed. But some within the Bubble wondered why only the players were permitted to see their family (referees were also allowed to bring one person each), one of those people being Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who pleaded to the NBA last week during a media press conference that he wanted to see his family: “I say shame on you NBA. This is crazy. I miss my family,” Malone said. His call for action worked, and now he’ll have even more of an incentive to continue pushing for a championship inside the Bubble.

Series standings from Monday

EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

(3) Celtics lead (2) Raptors 3-2

WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

(2) Clippers lead (3) Nuggets 2-1

STATISTICS

PlayerResult PointsFG (3FG)Reb.Ast.StealsBlocksTOs+/-Mins.
Jamal Murray (DEN)107-113 L vs. LAC145-17 (2-7)49202-638
Enes Kanter (BOS)111-89 W @ TOR00-1 (0-0)00001-13
Patrick Patterson (LAC)113-107 W @ DENDNP-CD----------------

TONIGHT IN THE BUBBLE

6:30 (TNT): Heat (Adebayo, Herro) @ Bucks (Bledsoe) [MIA leads 3-1]

9:00 (TNT): Lakers (Davis, Rondo) @ Rockets [Series tied 1-1]

Article written by Zack Geoghegan

Recruiting reporter for KSR. Follow me on Twitter: @ZGeogheganKSR