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NBA Boilover: Kawhi’s Clippers cooked by Denver miracle men

The Denver Nuggets have done what virtually no one in the basketball world thought possible, coming back from 3-1 down to send Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers tumbling out of the NBA playoffs.Having stunned the Utah Jazz with a turnaround from 3-1 down to reach the Western Conference semi-finals, the Nuggets repeated the trick…

The Denver Nuggets have done what virtually no one in the basketball world thought possible, coming back from 3-1 down to send Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers tumbling out of the NBA playoffs.

Having stunned the Utah Jazz with a turnaround from 3-1 down to reach the Western Conference semi-finals, the Nuggets repeated the trick against the Clippers, storming home in the elimination game seven 104-89, Wednesday morning.

They are the first team to ever overcome 3-1 deficits twice in a single post-season.

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Birthday boy Nuggets coach Michael Malone was delivered the perfect present by his players and was well-aware the lack of faith pundits had in his squad.

“We’re one of the toughest, most resilient teams in any sport,” Malone said, post-game.

“For us to win six straight elimination games, to come back from 3-1 two series in a row, it just speaks to our belief in each other and the love we have for each other.

“We believe, we don’t get caught up in what anyone else says.

“No one gave us a chance to beat the LA Clippers, so we used that as motivation.

“We’re going to enjoy the moment, but we still have a lot of work to do and we’re excited to have the opportunity to play in the Western Conference Finals.”

The Nuggets were inspired by flamethrower Jamal Murray (40 points) and uber-talented tower Nikola Jokic, who produced ridiculous triple-double (16 points, 13 assists, 22 rebounds).

Clippers stars Leonard (14 points, six rebounds, six assists) and Paul George (10 points, four rebounds, two assists) were blunted by the Nuggets’ committee of defenders, combining for a woeful 10/38 shooting. Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell was the only Clipper to find any rhythm, leading the way with 20 points.

The Clippers took a two-point lead into halftime but the Nuggets took control of the game from there, outscoring the LA side by 10 points in the third quarter and seven in the fourth to run away 15-point winners.

The Nuggets looked dead and buried four games into this series but took control from there, winning game five by six points and game six by 13.

The Nuggets will now play the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals, with the battle of LA officially off and the Clippers’ long wait for a maiden appearance in the conference finals going on.

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Leonard said the loss capped off a “shocking” year, after he made the call to leave the Toronto Raptors for the Clippers.

‘It’s been shocking,” Leonard said.

“The pandemic, a legend (Kobe Bryant) passing away from a crazy accident and us coming here to play these games has been hectic.

“I’m happy that we got to play basketball again and that probably kept a lot of us upbeat.”

Next up for the Nuggets: LeBron James and the LA Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

DOC: CLIPPERS DIDN’T MEET EXPECTATIONS

Clippers coach Doc Rivers now holds the dubious record of being the only coach in NBA history to blow multiple 3-1 series leads (Clippers, 2015) and added to his horror win-loss record in Game 7 (lost eight of 14 all-time, which is also the most in NBA history).

“I thought we had so many opportunities over the last three games to win, but you’ve got to give Denver credit, they kept executing, they kept playing together,” Rivers said.

“Right now (I’m feeling) just disappointment.

“We had great shots all night. I still didn’t think we trusted (each other enough).”

The Clippers side was pulled together last off-season when reigning NBA champion and Finals MVP Leonard made the move from Toronto and then star swingman George followed him.

It meant, though, that the team never quite jelled on the court. The Nuggets, built around stars Murray and Jokic, have been growing together since 2016.

“You could just see the difference in the two teams, that team’s been together, we haven’t and you could see it as the games went on. They just knew each other so well,” Rivers said.

“We didn’t meet them (expectations) that’s the bottom line, I’m the coach and I’ll take any blame for it, but we didn’t meet our expectations, clearly, because, in my opinion, we’d still be playing.”

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