There’s a few options when picking a decisive moment in Denver’s Game 5 comeback against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., but Nuggets coach Michael Malone has an under-the-radar suggestion.
For Malone, it wasn’t Michael Porter Jr.’s two-way contributions in the final 71 seconds or the stretch of 3-pointers from Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic earlier in the fourth quarter that gave the Nuggets their first lead. It wasn’t Paul Millsap’s 14-point third that got the Nuggets within five points, either, but it’s getting closer.
The Nuggets coach said the tide started to turn when Millsap had enough and decided not to back down after being fouled by Marcus Morris. After the whistle, Morris and Millsap went nose-to-nose and exchanged some words and shoves.
“I think that was a huge play that nobody will probably talk about,” Malone said. “When you have a seasoned veteran who has had enough and wasn’t just going to sit there and take it, and he stood up. I thought his response to that situation really helped our team respond to that, kind of gave us a group toughness. That was a pivotal play, a turning point in the game. Paul played really well for us tonight.”
After building a lead and getting even closer to the conference finals, Millsap said the Clippers got louder.
“I think it was the worst they’ve been talking all series,” Millsap said. “I know the word is we’re soft, (but) we’re not going to let these guys come in and just push us around. I think that’s something that sparked it.”
Morris was assessed a technical foul, and the Nuggets used a series of free throws to pull within 10 to start the third quarter. What came between the tense end of the first half and the start of the second half, Millsap couldn’t recall.
“I kind of blacked out. I kind of lost consciousness,” Millsap said. “I think everybody was fired up.”
In the third quarter, Millsap scored six straight points on two occasions to help the Nuggets start the fourth quarter down by seven, earning a nod from the rookie who came up big.
“We follow Jok(ic) and (Ja)Mal’s lead and those guys came up so big in this game, especially in that second,” Porter said. “But I would say tonight Sap won us that game. We were down and he kept clawing away.”