The Denver Nuggets bounced back with a vengeance on Saturday, powering to a 110-101 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers to even their NBA playoff series 1-1.
It was all-square between the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics, too, after the Raptors notched a second straight win, 100-93, to knot their Eastern Conference semi-final series 2-2 in the NBA’s quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida.
The Nuggets, routed 120-97 in game one of the Western Conference series on Thursday, turned the tables with a blistering first half in which they led by as many as 23 points.
“Game one, we were tired. I hate to admit it, but we were tired,” said guard Jamal Murray, who led Denver with 27 points. “We came out sloppy, came out exhausted, fatigued. We didn’t make any shots, we didn’t get back on defence.
“Tonight we just upped the energy and that’s all it took to win.”
Nikola Jokic added 26 points and 18 rebounds for Denver, who had rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Utah Jazz in seven games in the first round.
The two – who combined for 27 points in game one – had a total of 26 between them by the end of the first quarter as the Nuggets took a 44-25 lead.
It was 72-56 at half-time, and the Nuggets were up by 12 going into the final quarter.
The Clippers managed to cut the deficit to five early in the fourth and they got it to seven on Marcus Morris’s three-pointer with two and a half minutes remaining. Murray promptly answered with a three-pointer and the Nuggets were away again.
“I thought tonight we were a noticeably different team than we were in game one,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
Paul George scored 22 points for the Clippers and Ivica Zubac added 15.
Two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard finished with 13 points on four-of-17 shooting with 10 rebounds and eight assists.
“They were the aggressor tonight,” Leonard said. “A few easy ones didn’t fall early, and that was it from there.”
The NBA champion Raptors, who won game three against the Celtics on Thursday on OG Anunoby’s buzzer-beating three-pointer, clamped down defensively to win again, holding the Celtics to 20 per cent shooting from three-point range while draining 17 three-pointers themselves.
Pascal Siakam shook off a slow start to score 23 points as the NBA champion Toronto Raptors levelled the series.
Kyle Lowry scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds with seven assists for the Raptors, who won their second straight game and will try to gain the upper hand in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series for the first time in game five on Monday.
“Feels like we’re starting over,” Siakam said, but added: “It’s a great team we’re playing against. It’s not going to be easy. We know that.”
Lowry echoed the theme, saying the Raptors can’t afford to get complacent after two straight wins.
“We just continue to focus on every possession, every game,” he said. “We know how tough those guys are.”
Serge Ibaka connected on seven of nine shots from the floor to score 18 points off the bench for Toronto and Fred VanVleet added 17 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Raptors.
Jayson Tatum scored 24 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for the Celtics. Kemba Walker added 15 points
But Boston connected on just seven of 35 three-point attempts. Jaylen Brown struggled mightily, making just two of 11 from beyond the arc and just four of 18 overall in a 14-point performance.
“We weren’t very crisp all night,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I think once we missed a few we started trying to hit home runs.”