Tyronn Lue believes star duo Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will remain with the Los Angeles Clippers for a "long time" if championships are won as the new head coach embraces pressure of success.

Lue will lead the Clippers in 2020-21 after replacing Doc Rivers following the team's stunning Western Conference semi-final exit in the NBA playoffs.

The Clippers were one of the favourites to claim their maiden title following the arrivals of Leonard and George but squandered a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets at Walt Disney World Resort amid the coronavirus pandemic.

After going all-in to build a super team to outshine LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers – who reigned supreme in the Orlando bubble – pressure will again be on the Clippers to deliver a championship as time runs out.

"Any time you have a chance to win a championship, it's pressure," Lue told ESPN's 'The Jump' in an interview to be aired Thursday.

"And, I think Kawhi, PG are here to stay for a long time. We just gotta make it a great environment and we have to win."

Lue fronted the media for the first time since being appointed, stepping up to fill Rivers' void having served as an assistant for the Clippers in 2019-20.

The 43-year-old Lue guided the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first championship in 2016 – a team headline by James.

There were high hopes for the Clippers, boasting two-time champion Leonard, six-time All-Star George, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams but team chemistry and leadership derailed the Los Angeles franchise last term.

The 2019-20 campaign was the ninth consecutive season the Clippers finished with a winning record (49-23) but failed to reach the Conference finals – the longest streak of its kind in NBA history, per Stats Perform.

"I think when you talk about chemistry and continuity, it is not off the court, the guys not liking each other," Lue told reporters on Wednesday.

"When you talk about chemistry, it is more so [George] came in and he had shoulder surgery, so he was out, he missed the whole training camp and was out the first 11 games of the season. Kawhi came in and couldn't participate in the whole training camp, and then we lost Pat Beverley, in and out of the lin-up a few times."

One of the Clippers' biggest strengths is their bench, averaging over 50 points per game in each of the past two seasons – the only times any team have done that in the past 35 years.

But in the playoffs this past season, the Clippers relied much more heavily on their starters as their bench averaged only 36.5 points per game in the postseason.

With the Clippers built to win now, their ageing roster also presents a problem. They are one of the oldest teams in the league, fourth and only behind the Houston Rockets (30 years, 179 days), Milwaukee Bucks (29 years, 321 days) and Lakers (29 years, 201 days) with an average of 28 years and 153 days.

"Leadership is different," Lue said. "You can talk about our two players, Kawhi and PG, they lead by example ... And you are not going to have the best players be the natural leaders at all times. It doesn't happen like that. I think a lot of leadership has to come from me, has to come from Kawhi, PG, Lou and Pat Beverley. It's going to be collective.

"I got to show them different ways of leadership and they got to show me different ways of leadership. I don't know everything. They don't know everything ... The biggest thing about leadership is just communication."

The Los Angeles Clippers believe they have appointed "one of the great minds" in the NBA after Tyronn Lue was confirmed as the team's new head coach. 

Lue served as an assistant for the Clippers in the previous season but steps up to the top job following the departure of Doc Rivers. 

The former first-round pick was previously head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, compiling a 128-83 record during his time in charge and leading the franchise to their first NBA title in 2016. 

Now he takes charge of a team who fell short of expectations in 2019-20, letting slip a 3-1 lead inside the Florida bubble to be knocked out by the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals. 

Rivers parted ways after failing to get the most out of a roster that included Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, though he has since been appointed head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. 

As for the Clippers, president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank is confident Lue's personality and previous experiences can lift the team to "new heights". 

"Ty has been where we want to go. He is a championship head coach with an extraordinary feel for the game and the people who play it," Frank said. 

"He's one of the great minds in our league, and he's able to impart his vision to others, because he connects with everybody he meets. We conducted a thorough search and spoke with fantastic candidates. We found that the best choice for our team was already in our building. 

"As head coach, Ty will put a unique imprint on the organisation, and drive us to new heights." 

Lue, who steered the Cavs to the NBA Finals for three straight years, will hope to steal the Los Angeles spotlight away from the newly crowned Lakers, but believes all the components for success are in place. 

"The pieces we need are in place – committed ownership, smart management and elite talent, on and off the court, in the NBA's best market," Lue said.  

"We have work to do to become champions, but we have the motivation, the tools, and the support to get there. I'm excited to get started." 

Lue becomes the Clippers' 26th head coach. Terms of his deal were not released, as per team policy.

Is Doc Rivers the man to complete the process for the Philadelphia 76ers?

For so long, fans and pundits alike have been told to "Trust the Process" in Philadelphia, but things have not gone according to plan.

Having tanked and started from the bottom seven years ago following a drastic rebuild of Philadelphia's roster and psyche, the long-term vision delivered stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

But it has only yielded two trips to the Eastern Conference semi-finals, with the 76ers humiliatingly swept by rivals the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs this season.

Bowing out with barely a whimper at Walt Disney World Resort cost head coach Brett Brown his job following seven gruelling years, and raised further questions over the compatibility of franchise pillars Embiid and Simmons.

General manager Elton Brand and the 76ers will be hoping championship-winner Rivers has the answers, having turned to the former Los Angeles Clippers and Celtics coach on a five-year deal, in pursuit of a first title since 1983.

As Rivers – who departed the Clippers following a postseason capitulation – tries to get the 76ers back on track, we look at the 58-year-old using Stats Perform data.

 

Rivers crosses the divide

There is no love lost between the Celtics and 76ers in the Eastern Conference, and Rivers has history in Boston.

Rivers spent nine years as head coach of the Celtics, delivering a championship to the storied franchise in 2008.

As the 76ers try to get the best out of Embiid and Simmons, they will be encouraged by Rivers' ability to bring stars Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo together en route to NBA Finals success 12 years ago.

Though, he was unable to take star recruits Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the second-seeded Clippers to the decider this season.

NBA Coach of the Year in 2010, Rivers coached 827 games with the Celtics – including playoffs – which is the second most in franchise history.

Rivers is no stranger to the Celtics-76ers rivalry, having experienced 42 showdowns – boasting a 25-17 record between 2004 and 2013.

Chris Ford (30 with the 76ers and 439 with the Celtics) and Jim O'Brien (87 with the 76ers and 284 with the Celtics) also coached both teams.

 

Doc nearing top 10

Whichever way you want to look at it, Rivers is just a few wins away from joining an esteemed group of coaches.

He has 1,034 career wins (770 losses) across the regular season and playoffs – just three victories shy of entering the top 10 for all-time wins in the NBA, level with Red Auerbach. Current San Antonio Spurs great Gregg Popovich tops the list with 1,447.

If you are just looking at the regular season, Rivers has overseen 943 wins (681 defeats), one behind 10th-placed Bill Fitch. Former Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson – a three-time championship-winning coach – stands alone at the top with 1,335.

 

Playoff woes after regular-season success

Rivers swapped the east for the west amid much fanfare and a lucrative pay cheque as the highest-paid coach at the time.

He oversaw the fifth-best record in the NBA with the Clippers – 356-208 in the regular season – but failed to reach the Finals.

The Clippers also top the list for most consecutive seasons with 40-plus wins on nine – seven of those campaigns were on Rivers' watch.

Rivers has a 66.2 winning percentage in his first four seasons with a team, only behind Steve Kerr (80.8), Avery Johnson (73.5), Mike D'Antoni (68.2) and Stan Van Gundy (67.7).

He went 217-11 in his first four seasons with the Clippers, winning at least 50 games each season. However, Rivers went 139-97 (58.9 per cent) over the last three campaigns, failing to reach 50 wins in each season (though he would surely have reached that total this season had it not been for the coronavirus shutdown). Los Angeles finished 49-23.

Rivers was unable to snap the Clippers' curse of never making the Finals – a run of 50 consecutive seasons without appearing in the NBA's showpiece. Only the Atlanta Hawks (59) and Sacramento Kings (69) have been waiting longer, though they have previously advanced.

He is the only coach in NBA history to blow multiple 3-1 leads in the playoffs following the Clippers' capitulation at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals this season. His Clippers also surrendered a 3-1 lead in 2015, as did the 2003 Orlando Magic.

In another concerning postseason trend, there have been seven teams to lose a Game 7 at home by 13 or more points – Rivers was the coach responsible for the last three such games (2017 Clippers, 2009 Celtics, 2005 Celtics).

Joel Embiid welcomed Doc Rivers to the Philadelphia 76ers after the former Los Angeles Clippers head coach reportedly agreed a deal with the NBA franchise.

Rivers is set to replace Brett Brown on a five-year deal at the championship-chasing 76ers, according to ESPN.

The 76ers, who sacked Brown after being swept by rivals the Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA playoffs, quickly turned to Rivers following his Clippers exit.

Rivers departed the Clippers after the Los Angeles team – boasting Kawhi Leonard and Paul George – sensationally surrendered a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals.

And All-Star Embiid approved of Rivers' appointment ahead of any official announcement on Thursday.

"Welcome to the city of Brotherly Love Coach @DocRivers!!!!," Embiid wrote via Twitter.

"Excited for the future and what we’re building here #PhillyForever."

Rivers is poised to cross the divide, having previously coached the Celtics and guided Boston to the NBA championship in 2008.

The 58-year-old arrived at the Clippers in 2013 and led them to the playoffs in six of seven seasons, but never beyond the conference semi-finals.

Rivers finished with a 356-208 regular-season record at the helm of the Clippers, but was just 27-32 in the playoffs.

He is set to join a 76ers team facing questions over All-Star duo Embiid and Ben Simmons and their compatibility, after Brown struggled to fully utilise the franchise pair together in Philadelphia.

The 76ers, eyeing their first NBA championship since 1983 following two trips to the Eastern Conference semis under Brown, were reportedly targeting former Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni and 2016 title winner Tyronn Lue before Rivers became available.

Embiid averaged 23.0 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in the regular season as the 76ers (43-30) finished sixth in the east, and 30.0 points and 12.3 rebounds in the playoffs at Walt Disney World Resort.

Doc Rivers confirmed on Twitter that his time as Los Angeles Clippers head coach was over amid reports he had been fired.

Among the favourites for the NBA title this season, the Clippers sensationally gave up a 3-1 series lead to be eliminated by the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals.

Rivers arrived at the Clippers in 2013 and led them to the playoffs in six of seven seasons, but never beyond the conference semi-finals.

The 58-year-old posted on Twitter thanking the team, confirming his exit.

"Thank you Clipper Nation for allowing me to be your coach and for all your support in helping make this a winning franchise," Rivers wrote.

"When I took this job, my goals were to make this a winning basketball program, a free agent destination, and bring a championship to this organisation. While I was able to accomplish most of my goals, I won't be able to see them all through.

"Though it was a disappointing ending to our season, you are right there and I know what this team is capable of accomplishing with your support.

"Thank you to all the players, coaches, and staff for helping us get here. Most importantly, thank you to the fans. We went through a lot, and I am grateful for my time here."

Rivers finished with a 356-208 regular-season record at the helm of the Clippers, but was just 27-32 in the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Clippers have never been counted among the NBA’s elite franchises.  This season things were supposed to be different after the team landed bona fide superstar Kawhi Leonard.  In the end, they weren’t.  Many said he was the one to finally change things. He couldn’t.  

I can only imagine what it’s like to be a Clippers fan in a city that has a team like the Los Angeles Lakers. Instead of going to games to celebrate your team’s countless achievements, you merely go to watch as they stack up countless failures.

Cast in the role of a redeemer for the Clippers this season, Kawhi has received major backlash from some fans who hoped he would save the franchise from another subpar season.  But, he isn’t to blame.  The team’s elimination from the playoffs after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets can’t be placed on just his shoulders alone.

Kawhi needed a Pippen to his Jordan, an Anthony Davis to his LeBron, a Dory to his Marlin.  He needed a sidekick, a reliable partner. Paul George wasn’t that.  In fact, many considered the Clippers to be the deepest team in the NBA, but no one really showed up.  Not even the typically reliable 6th men Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams who have been solid fallbacks for the team for many seasons now.

You don’t need a crystal ball to see that if Kawhi doesn’t get the backing he needs, and deserves, then the Clippers’ chances of winning a championship next year and their hopes of escaping this continuous cycle of mediocrity are dim.

Looking at the bigger picture, the Lakers are still going to be contenders, the Golden State Warriors led by Clay Thompson and Steph Curry are expected to be back in contention and young talented teams like the Nuggets will return with plenty more experience and a drive like never before.  And, that is just the Western Conference.

Don’t get me wrong, by no means am I saying this is the end for the Los Angeles Clippers, they could come out of this disappointment a stronger team and even go on to be champions, but they need to find a way to at least live up to their name.

Unlike the famous speedy ships that once passed through San Diego Bay, their performances have been slow and plodding.

In fact, they came into the NBA bubble performing more like the old, dull scissors being used by many at home in the pandemic.  You know, the ones you have laying around the house somewhere that you would never cut your hair with because you would rather look scruffy than use scissors you don’t have faith in.  The ones you could give your children to use for craft projects to keep them busy in between homeschooling sessions.

It would be great to see the other LA franchise really sharpen up.  Be the clippers our trusty barbers use. The ones known for their precision. The ones that have a razor edge and are cut-throat sharp.

 

Please share your thoughts on Twitter (@SportsMax_Carib) or in the comments section on Facebook (@SportsMax). Don’t forget to use #IAmNotAFan. Until next time!

 

 

 

When billionaire owner Steve Ballmer opened his cheque book to sign Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Los Angeles Clippers were immediately elevated into the championship picture.

Leonard was fresh off guiding the Toronto Raptors to a first NBA title, while six-time All-Star George finally landed in a big city after starring in Indiana and Oklahoma City.

The Clippers went all-in to build a super team to outshine LeBron James and iconic neighbours the Los Angeles Lakers, but time is already running out to win championships after sensationally capitulating against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals at Walt Disney World Resort.

As head coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers try to pinpoint what went wrong for the second seeds, we review the team's 2019-20 season using STATS data.

Postseason hurdle too great

The star-studded Clippers cannot translate their regular-season form to playoff success, having finished behind only the Lakers in the west.

This campaign was the ninth consecutive season they finished with a winning record (49-23) but failed to reach the Conference finals – the longest streak of its kind in NBA history.

The Clippers' postseason woes were compounded by a horrific series loss to the Nuggets, having led 3-1 and stood on the cusp of an all-Los Angeles Western Conference final.

One of three franchises that joined the NBA as an expansion team in the 1970-71 season, the Clippers – formerly known as the Buffalo Braves – have never won a championship or conference title.

 

George and Kawhi incompatible?

The Clippers gave up a lot to pair George with Leonard.

Los Angeles sent five first-round draft picks, plus Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, to the Thunder in exchange for 2018-19 MVP finalist George.

But George – who averaged 21.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists in the regular season – struggled to produce when it mattered most and shot the ball much worse this season when he shared the court with two-time champion Leonard. The difference was even greater during the playoffs.

With Leonard on the court in the regular season, George's field-goal percentage was 41.1 compared to 48.2 without him. During the playoffs, George boasted a 53.8 shooting percentage while Leonard was sidelined, a significant improvement on the 36.8 per cent he managed together with the former Raptors superstar. 

Combined, George has a 48.8 percentage while Leonard is off the court, compared to 39.9 during the duo's time together.

Zubac over Harrell

The Clippers could well build their team around Ivica Zubac and not 2020 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell.

In the playoffs this season, the Clippers were great with Zubac on the court but not so good with fellow center Harrell, who is set to become a free agent.

Zubac (110) had the third-highest plus-minus in the postseason, behind Lakers pair Anthony Davis (131) and Danny Green (118). Harrell was among the lowest with -68 – only Tim Hardaway Jr. (-82), Monte Morris (-82), Tyler Johnson (-73) and Maxi Kleber (-72) were worse.

 

Ageing Clippers over-reliant on starters

One of the Clippers' biggest strengths is their bench, averaging over 50 points per game in each of the past two seasons – the only times any team have done that in the past 35 years.

But in the playoffs this season, the Clippers relied much more heavily on their starters as their bench averaged only 36.5 points per game in the postseason.

With the Clippers built to win now, their ageing roster also presents a problem. They are one of the oldest teams in the league, fourth and only behind the Houston Rockets (30 years, 179 days), Milwaukee Bucks (29 years, 321 days) and Lakers (29 years, 201 days) with an average of 28 years and 153 days.

LeBron James dismissed talk about the Los Angeles Clippers following their NBA playoff exit as the Los Angeles Lakers superstar marvelled at upcoming opponents the Denver Nuggets.

A blockbuster all-Los Angeles Western Conference final was quashed by the rallying Nuggets, who overturned a 3-1 series deficit against the second-seeded Clippers to set up a Lakers clash.

Asked about not playing Kawhi Leonard's Clippers for a place in the NBA Finals, three-time champion James told reporters on Thursday: "I don't have a comment about it really.

"I was just sitting back and watching the game from a fan's perspective, seeing big shots be made, big plays being made, missed shots, things of that nature. I was also [watching] as a scout, scouting both teams at the same time."

A follow-up question centred on the Lakers and Clippers settling their battle for supremacy in Los Angeles but James replied: "What were we settling?"

Lakers team-mate Anthony Davis added: "We aren't focused on any other team but the Lakers. That's kind of been us, our whole thing the entire season. We focused on our own team.

"Our focus isn't on the Clippers or the 'Battle of L.A.' It's more so what can we do to finish our season strong."

James and Davis were speaking on the eve of Game 1 between top seeds the Lakers and the Nuggets at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

The Nuggets overpowered the shocked Clippers as they became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series twice in the same postseason, having rallied past the Utah Jazz.

Led by Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets will contest their first Conference final since losing to the Lakers in 2008-09.

"Very resilient, very confident, very driven, very well-coached team," James said as he lauded the third-seeded Nuggets.

"It takes a lot of energy, effort, a lot of desperation to be able to come back from a 3-1 deficit. They did it twice. So the respect level is out of this world for what we have for this ballclub. That's how we're going into this series: understanding what they're capable of, where they stand."

LeBron James and Anthony Davis were both named in the All-NBA First Team on Wednesday as the Los Angeles Lakers prepare to face the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.

The All-NBA selections were announced as the playoffs hot up in Orlando, although the Lakers duo were the only remaining members of the First Team.

James and Davis were joined by James Harden, whose Houston Rockets they beat in the second round, along with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

MVP candidates James and Antetokounmpo were both unanimous votes.

The Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard and playoff nemesis Nikola Jokic headlined the Second Team. Jokic led the Nuggets past the Clippers on Tuesday to complete another remarkable series fightback.

Damian Lillard was also included after carrying the Portland Trail Blazers into the postseason, alongside veteran Chris Paul, who impressed following his trade from the Rockets to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Pascal Siakam - disappointing in the playoffs for defending champions the Toronto Raptors - made up the selection.

Meanwhile, in the Third Team, the Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum and the Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler are both still alive as Eastern Conference Finals opponents.

Russell Westbrook, part of the Paul trade, got recognition, too, and was joined by Rudy Gobert and Ben Simmons, the latter ending the season injured.

Jamal Murray demanded the likes of Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley start giving the Denver Nuggets "some damn respect" after their Western Conference semi-final heroics.

The Nuggets dominated the Los Angeles Clippers 104-89 in Orlando on Tuesday to progress from an all-or-nothing Game 7, becoming the first team to recover from a 3-1 deficit twice in the same postseason.

Few tipped the third-seeded Nuggets to get past a Clippers team comprising the likes of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, particularly when the team found themselves in such a precarious position.

"You got [Shaquille O'Neal], you got Charles [Barkley], I think Zach Lowe … Stephen A. [Smith], all y'all better start giving this team some damn respect," Murray said. 

"Because we put in the work. We shouldn't have been down 3-1, but to come back down 3-1 against the Clippers is a big achievement, so it's fun just to change that narrative."

Murray was influential for the Nuggets, putting up 40 points, and he feels the star-studded Clippers failed to cope with Denver's enthusiasm.

"We've got a lot of energy, and we brought it and they didn't match that," Murray said. 

"They've got who they got. They've got a talented squad. They've got Doc [Rivers], too. They've got assistant coaches who are about to be head coaches. 

"We know what they have, we just outworked them a little bit with our young legs."

Nikola Jokic had promised head coach Michael Malone one of two presents on his 49th birthday prior to the game: "I'm either going to get you home or get you to the Western Conference Finals." 

After it proved to be the latter, Jokic said the Nuggets are relishing proving the doubters wrong.

"Nobody wants us here. Nobody thinks we can do something. We proved ourselves and proved [to] everybody we can do something," he said.

"This is a really interesting team. We don't have many superstars."

Next up is a daunting task against an in-form Los Angeles Lakers side led by LeBron James, but Jokic said: "They gotta worry about us, too."

Paul George accepts the Los Angeles Clippers failed to live up to lofty expectations but insists the season never felt like a "championship-or-bust" scenario.

The Clippers were among the favourites to become NBA champions after bringing in superstars George and Kawhi Leonard but their wait for a maiden Conference Finals appearance continued after a disappointing evening in Orlando on Tuesday.

George had just 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting and Leonard put up only 14 as the Denver Nuggets ran out 104-89 winners in a Game 7 of the Western Conference semi-finals, becoming the first team to recover from consecutive 3-1 series deficits in the same postseason.

While the defeat hurts for George now, he remains convinced the team will continue to grow together.

"It was obvious pressure to live up to the title expectations. But as a player, I mean, you want that. It's the first time I've been in that situation where we're expected to win," George said. 

"But it is what it is. It's no cop out. The fact of the matter is, we didn't live up to that expectation.

"But I think internally, we've always felt, this is not a championship-or-bust year for us. We can only get better the longer we stay together and the more we're around each other. 

"The more chemistry as a group, the better. I think that's really the tale of the tape of this season. We just didn't have enough time together."

George is keen not to see any knee-jerk reactions, responding when asked what roster changes he would like to see: "None. None. It's our first year together. 

"You can't even say we want to change our roster. We like what we've got. I mean, we've been saying it all year. It's just about chemistry, being together. 

"The more we can be together, the better we'll be. It's year one. We've got a lot to reflect on. A lot to look at going forward and to get better with."

George and Leonard, a title winner with the Toronto Raptors last season, fell short this year but the former has enjoyed playing alongside his new team-mate.

"I mean, it was great. Great first season with Kawhi. You know, still learning, figuring each other out," he said. 

"But I thought we had a great year playing off each other. We can only improve off that. But I mean, it's pressure you want. It's pressure you want. You want that pressure. 

"It's the first time I've been on a team and not be considered an underdog. So it was different, but you want that pressure as a competitor, as a guy that wants to compete. You want that pressure. 

"We didn't make it to where we wanted to get to. Tip our hats off to Denver. They played great, and again, all we've got to do is look forward to the next one."

Leonard added: "We were right there. There's no excuses. We should have finished it off. Like I said, the last three games pretty much mirrored each other."

The Denver Nuggets made history by completing another stunning comeback as they reached the Western Conference finals after blitzing the Los Angeles Clippers in their NBA series decider.

Denver won Game 7 of the Western Conference semi-finals 104-89 on Tuesday to set up a blockbuster playoff showdown against top seeds the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Nuggets overpowered the shocked Clippers as they became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series twice in the same postseason, having rallied past the Utah Jazz.

Trailing 56-54 at half-time, the Nuggets outscored Kawhi Leonard's Clippers 50-33 in the second half in Orlando, Florida, where Denver will contest their first Conference final since losing to the Lakers in 2008-09.

Meanwhile, the Miami Heat dramatically prevailed 117-114 after overtime against the Boston Celtics in the opening game of their Eastern Conference final.

Jimmy Butler's three-pointer put the Heat ahead with 12 seconds remaining and Heat team-mate Bam Adebayo made an incredible block on Jayson Tatum to deny the Celtics star a game-tying dunk at the death.

 

Jokic and Murray fuel Nuggets

Just like they did in the first round of the playoffs, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray led Denver's comeback. The duo completed the fightback against the Clippers, with Murray posting a game-high 40 points. Jokic became the first player in NBA playoff history to record a 20-plus rebound triple-double. Prior to Jokic, no player had put up a triple-double through three quarters of a Game 7 over the last 25 years. He finished with 16 points, 22 rebounds and 13 assists.

The Heat flexed their muscles with a team performance at Walt Disney World Resort. Starters Goran Dragic (29), Jae Crowder (22), Butler and Adebayo (18) all reached double-digit points. Tatum had 30 points and 14 rebounds but it was not enough for the Celtics, while Marcus Smart scored 26 of his own.

 

Clippers crumble

Poised to meet the Lakers in an all-Los Angeles Conference final, the Clippers capitulated against the Nuggets. Their woes were amplified on Tuesday. Two-time NBA champion Leonard was just six of 22 from the field for 14 points. He was only two of seven from three-point range. All-Star team-mate Paul George had 10 points on four-of-16 shooting from the field, while he made just two of his 11 attempts from beyond the arc. As a team, the Clippers were just 37.8 per cent from the field and 25.7 per cent from three-point territory.

 

Heat face Celtics

There will be no playoff action until the Heat and Celtics go head-to-head in Game 2 on Thursday.

Paul George staying out of foul trouble will be crucial to the Los Angeles Clippers' hopes of reaching the Western Conference Finals, says coach Doc Rivers.

The Clippers head into Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets in Orlando on Tuesday, with rivals the Los Angeles Lakers waiting if they can progress.

Rivers' team blew a 19-point lead in Orlando as the Nuggets forced a deciding Game 7 with a 111-98 victory on Sunday, with the Clippers having also given up a 16-point advantage in the previous contest.

The coach insists there is no secret to explain how the Clippers lost those leads and stressed the importance of his guards remaining out of foul trouble.

George, one of the NBA's premier defensive players, had four fouls in Games 4 and 5 and then five in Game 6, a contest that saw Patrick Beverley foul out in 18 minutes.

"PG can't get in foul trouble," Rivers said ahead of Game 7.

"I think he's been in foul trouble at least two, maybe three of the games, and at times he's not even guarding one of your key guys. We've just got to keep him on the floor.

"The foul trouble by our guards, they have been very hurtful in this series, and not just the last two games.

"We've got to keep our guards on the floor, because if we don't, we've got to go to lineups defensively that are not desirable."

Rivers is comforted to have two-time NBA champion Kawhi Leonard with him for such a big occasion after his heroics in the playoffs with the Toronto Raptors en route to winning last season's title.

"He's unshakable," said Rivers. "Kawhi, you can't guarantee he'll play well or not because he's human and all players are.

"But you know, the moment won't be too big. That's the one thing like with him, you just know that. So that's comforting to know that."

Discussing the two collapses against the Nuggets, Rivers said there was "no secret potion" to explain what happened on those occasions.

He added: "The two things that we didn't do, clearly defensively, they shot almost 60 per cent in the second half. The one thing that did stand out, they went to the free-throw line like on every play."

And Rivers is not planning an emotional pre-game speech to fire up his players before the pivotal matchup.

"I'm going to say 'let’s go win'," he said. "Rah-rah speeches are overrated - that's for the movies.

"They last about three minutes and then you come running out and you're fired up. And then three minutes later you've got to focus on playing basketball. So there’s no secret speech.

"The real thing is you've got to have them prepared, and preparation. That's what we’ll do, we'll get them doing what we've done to get the leads and we'll continue to do it.

"But there's nothing secret or magical. It is about playing basketball. Manning up, moving the ball and doing all of the things we can do."

Paul George is adamant the Los Angeles Clippers remain in the "driver seat" despite another alarming collapse against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals.

The Clippers blew a 19-point lead in Orlando as the Nuggets forced a deciding Game 7 with a 111-98 victory on Sunday.

It followed the Clippers giving up a 16-point lead in the previous contest, but George still fancies the team's chances of progressing to a Conference Finals series with the Los Angeles Lakers.

"It's positive," George said when asked about the mood among the roster.

"This group's staying together. We still in the driver seat. It's not a panic mode. 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.

"We know what we are up against. We have the utmost respect for them as opponents, but I like our chances. I like our odds. I like what we have. Again, it's on us to finish this out.

"We've just got to go back to the film and see what we are doing. I think that's the only question that needs to be answered is why aren't we matching them."

Team-mate Kawhi Leonard, who scored 25 points, said it was a case of the team going "cold" in a third quarter in which the Clippers shot four-for-20.

"We just went cold. 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," Leonard said.

"Just got to leave it all out on the floor and make sure we are paying attention to detail and executing and communicating on the defensive end and that's all we can do, go out there and play hard and just make sure we know the game plan."

The Nuggets' charge came at a pivotal moment when Jamal Murray was left in pain when a layup was blocked by George, who nailed a three at the other end to put the Clippers into their biggest lead.

Nikola Jokic stepped up to the plate, finishing with 34 points including draining four of his six three-point attempts.

"It hurt, it hurt a lot," Murray said of the incident with George. "I was going to come out but not in Game 6, not in an elimination game. Not when my team needed me, and they had my back.

"Everybody's talking about me, but I didn't do nothing. Everybody came in and did their job and more."

On Jokic's performance, Murray added: "He's hitting one-leg step-backs, fading away off one leg with a hand in his face consecutive times, so I'd say he's the best player in the world.

"It was a team effort, but Joker definitely carried us throughout the game."

The Denver Nuggets produced another remarkable recovery to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 111-98 on Sunday and secure a Game 7 in the Western Conference semi-finals.

Denver, who came from 3-1 down to beat the Utah Jazz in seven games in the previous round, had overturned a 16-point deficit against the Clippers in Game 5 to keep their seemingly slim title hopes alive.

This time, the Clippers – looking to reach a mouth-watering match-up against rivals the Lakers – were up by as many as 19 points at one stage in the third.

But the Nuggets never gave up and their star duo of Nikola Jokic (34 points and 14 rebounds) and Jamal Murray (21 points) inspired a second straight stunning win.

The game looked to have moved away from Denver at the end of a damaging first half in which they had 10 turnovers, a 10-0 run led by Paul George (33 points) and Kawhi Leonard (25 points) putting the Clippers in control.

Things went from bad to worse for the Nuggets early in the third when Murray went down with a knock to his groin as George blocked, and Leonard and his team stretched into a game-high lead.

But Murray bravely battled on and a 17-0 run took his team to within one with three minutes left in the third.

The momentum then swung entirely in the final period, with the Clippers shellshocked as Patrick Beverley fouled out and Denver seized the initiative, keeping the Lakers waiting with a flurry of late scores.

Game 7 is on Tuesday.

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