Paul George had 23 points and nine rebounds, Kawhi Leonard scored 21 before leaving in the fourth quarter, and the visiting Los Angeles Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets 121-108 on Friday night.
Leonard went down after getting hit in the face by the elbow of teammate Serge Ibaka with 6:11 left. He was bleeding profusely before walking to the locker room and was ruled out for the remainder of the contest.
Ibaka had 15 points, Nicolas Batum scored 13 and Ivica Zubac had 12 points off the bench for the Clippers. Los Angeles exacted a bit of revenge after blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Nuggets in last season’s Western Conference semifinals and falling in seven games.
Denver’s Nikola Jokic finished with 24 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds and Jamal Murray had 13 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. Will Barton added 15 points, Monte Morris scored 13 and Michael Porter Jr. finished with 10 for the Nuggets.
The Clippers led 32-26 after the first quarter and opened the second on a 9-2 run. Los Angeles went up by 14 before a 3-pointer from Morris and a three-point play by Barton got Denver within eight, but Los Angeles took control of the final eight minutes of the half.
Leonard and Ibaka had consecutive three-point plays and Leonard hit a long 3-pointer to stretch the lead to 56-40. Patrick Beverley hit another from behind the arc — the Clippers’ 12th 3-pointer of the first half — and Los Angeles hit seven straight free throws in the final three minutes to lead by 20.
Jokic’s 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left in the second quarter made it 72-55 at the half.
Leonard’s second 3-pointer of the game put the Clippers ahead 79-58, but Denver crept closer on a finger roll by Gary Harris, Jokic’s free throw and a layup by Murray, forcing a Los Angeles timeout. Batum hit two corner 3-pointers and Lou Williams sank a midrange jumper to put the visitors up 93-72 with 3:27 left in the third quarter.
George’s 3-pointer made it a 24-point lead before Denver went on a run, outscoring the Clippers 21-8 to get within 106-95, but Los Angeles held on.