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Clippers falter down the stretch, lose to Nuggets in Game 5

And the city of L.A. is still two wins away from a potential Clippers-Lakers showdown in the Western Conference Finals.

Before the game, Clippers coach Doc Rivers knew better than to celebrate or start scheming for the next foe, cautioning that “it makes no sense to focus on what happens after it, you have to do it, and that’s been my philosophy and that’s what we have to do.”

Alas, they didn’t do it. Not against the resilient Denver Nuggets on Friday, anyway.

After relinquishing control in a 111-105 Game 5 loss, the Clippers lead their Western Conference semifinals series 3-2 — and remain one tantalizing win away from the franchise’s first berth in a conference finals series.

The Nuggets trailed by as many as 16 points and 80-73 entering the fourth quarter, when they yanked back momentum with a 38-point fourth quarter, which included a barrage of seven 3-pointers and a few huge plays from rookie Michael Porter Jr., who drew ire for his public criticism of his team after Wednesday’s loss.

On Friday, Porter played the entirety of the fourth quarter and contributed seven points, three rebounds and an assist and a block in the frame and Nikola Jokic made all four of his shots for 11 points, as Denver extended its stay in the bubble at least one more game. Jokic finished with 22 points, Jamal Murray had 26 and Paul Millsap gave the Nuggets a big lift with 17 points.

The Clippers squandered another magnificent effort from Kawhi Leonard, who finished with 36 points on 12-of-24 shooting, to go with nine rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Paul George had 26 points and Marcus Morris Sr. had 12 and Patrick Beverley 10.

“We started gambling way too much on defense, and stopped moving the ball on offense,” Rivers said. “Like, they’re not gonna go away.”

Already this postseason, Denver proved itself a tough out, rallying from a 3-1 deficit to defeat Utah in the first round. On Friday afternoon, coach Michael Malone hoped his team could again find a way to “hang out with Mickey Mouse a little bit longer” in the bubble.

He got his wish.

None of the current Clippers players were with the team in 2015 when Rivers’ squad led its series against Houston 3-2 and had a 19-point third-quarter lead and a 13-point advantage entering the fourth, before the Rockets, who’d trailed the series 3-1, rallied for the 119-107 victory — and then the series victory, 4-3, something Clippers fans haven’t forgotten, even with the roster overhauls and refreshed expectations.

More to come on this story.