Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Heat Game 5

Giannis Antetokounmpo in Bucks-Heat Game 4

Who is the NBA Bubble MVP to this point?

James Harden? Jimmy Butler has a case as a leader for Miami. Anthony Davis? Damian Lillard won the vote for the seeding games, but his team was eliminated too early.

The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard put an exclamation point on his case with 30 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, four steals, and a couple of blocks on Wednesday night. He was dominant on both ends. Denver has no answer for him.

Combine Kawhi Leonard with the best Clippers defensive outing of the series and Los Angeles won 96-85 to take a 3-1 series lead against Denver. Game 5 is on Friday night.

The Clippers are now one win away from somewhere the franchise has never been: the conference finals.

“That’s not our goal, so I don’t think anyone cares,” Doc Rivers said of being that close to the WCF and franchise history. “It was a zero reaction. We haven’t done anything yet.”

It’s wins like this that make the Clippers look like the best team in the NBA restart in Orlando. Los Angeles held Denver to 39.7% shooting as a team and a 93.4 offensive rating. Nikola Jokic got 26 points on 11-of-23 shooting, Jamal Murray had 18 points but was 6-of-15, but across the board Nuggets players were thrown out of rhythm and struggled to get clean looks. The Clippers’ defense was smothering. The Nuggets were getting frustrated.

“We’re finally figuring out once our defense is there, it creates everything for us,” Paul George said.

“We’re still trying to come together,” Leonard said. “I don’t know where we’re at. I know that we’re going to keep getting better and that’s the purpose each and every day.”

The Clippers came together early and threw a blanket over the Nuggets offense. The Nuggets scored 12 first-quarter points, shot 25% overall and were 0-of-8 from three. The Clippers built that lead up to 18 points in the first half at one point.

Denver, to its credit, fought back, played some solid defense of their own, and tied the game early in the third quarter.

But the role players around the Nuggets stars were not getting the job done, outside of Michael Porter Jr., who had 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting, then after the game sounded very frustrated he was not getting more touches.

“We just went to [Jokic] and [Murray]…” Porter Jr. said of Denver’s offense. “I just think to beat that team, we got to get more players involved.”

He and Mike Malone will talk.

The Clippers built the lead back up to 16 and were never seriously threatened again. Montrezl Harrell had 15 points and Lou Williams 12 off the bench. The Clippers’ scoring was balanced, but based around Leonard.

“I think our continuity is growing,” George said. “I think this team is getting more and more comfortable together. I think the challenge, it’s allowing us to come together and we are accepting these challenges. We are having fun with it and we are growing at the same time with it.”

The Clippers look like a team that will keep growing into a place the franchise has never been.

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