Look, we chainsawed its guts. We cut off its head. We read the incantation from the book twice. So why is this zombie still walking? The look on Kawhi Leonard’s face Sunday was a little like the “final girl” from horror films when the big baddie gets dismembered and just won’t stay, ya know, dead.
Isn’t this fun? The Nuggets are suddenly Freddy Krueger, the nightmare that never ends. And a reporter after Game 6 asked Leonard, one of the best players of his generation, if his Los Angeles Clippers were choke artists.
“Just went cold,” the Claw replied, softly, after the Nuggets stunned the Clips for a second consecutive playoff victory behind a second straight second-half flurry, forcing a Game 7 in the Western Conference semifinals. “We went cold in that third quarter. That’s it. We kept getting to the paint, passing the ball. Got a little stagnant and just couldn’t make shots.”
Even if it isn’t a choke, the Clippers are finding the Nuggets awfully hard to swallow right now. And harder, still, to put away. Denver outscored Los Angeles 18-6 over the final seven minutes of the third quarter. The Nuggets then won the fourth, 34-19, pulling out a 111-98 victory that pushed all the chips to the center of the table Tuesday night.
“(There’s) pressure every game,” said Leonard, who finished with 25 points and eight boards but didn’t make a field goal in the third quarter. “Obviously, nobody wants to go home.”
Yeah, but the Nuggets know this part of the neighborhood by memory now. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Denver is the first NBA team to play in four straight Game 7s. And the first since 1997 to come back from at least 15 points down in three different elimination playoff contests.
Meanwhile, Tuesday will be the first time Kawhi will have to play in a Game 7 after leading a series 3-1. And teammate Paul George has never won Game 7 of a postseason series that saw his squad let a 3-1 cushion slip away.
“We’re still in the driver seat. It’s not a panic mode,” said George, who netted a team-high 33 points. “We have a Game 7. I like our odds with our group. We put ourselves in this position. And it’s on us to get ourselves out of it.”
Denver is 5-0 in elimination games inside the NBA bubble, 6-1 over the past 18 months. The Nuggets look like they love the way the wall feels against their backs. The Clippers look like someone just ripped their guts out with a rusty crowbar.
“The more games you win, the more pressure is on the opposing team,” offered Nuggets wing man Torrey Craig, whose 3-pointer a minute into the fourth period gave Denver its first second-half lead. “Right now, we feel like the pressure’s on them.”
This part of the neighborhood’s never treated Doc Rivers kindly. The Clippers coach has lost every NBA postseason series his teams led 3-1 but failed to close out by Game 6.
Rivers’ Orlando Magic chucked away a 3-1 cushion during the first round of the 2003 playoffs, dropping three straight to Chauncey Billups and the Detroit Pistons. And Doc’s Clips lost three in a row to Houston to close out the 2015 Western Conference semis after racing out to a 3-1 bulge.
Of course, that’s ancient history now. And the Nuggets are a win away from making some more of their own.