Kawhi Leonard had 21 points before taking an elbow to the face in the fourth quarter, Paul George scored 23 points and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets 121-108 on Friday night.
The Clippers led by 11 with 6:11 left when Serge Ibaka went up for a rebound and caught the side of his teammate’s face with his right elbow. Leonard lay bleeding on the court before walking to the locker room.
“He got up and walked off the floor, so he’s going to be good,” LA coach Tyronn Lue said.
Leonard was ruled out shortly thereafter and was being evaluated postgame, but the Clippers didn’t need him to close out a Nuggets team that upset them in the second round of the Western Conference semifinals last season.
Nikola Jokic finished with 24 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for Denver, which has dropped its first two games of the season. Jamal Murray added 23 points, 13 coming in the fourth.
The Nuggets rallied from double-digit second-half deficits in Games 5, 6 and 7 of the second-round series in September, winning all three and wiping out LA’s 3-1 lead to advance to the Western Conference finals.
Denver wasn’t able to do it again but made a run after trailing by 24 late in the third quarter. The Nuggets used an 11-0 run into early in the fourth, and two 3-pointers by Murray sliced a 98-74 deficit to 106-95 with 7:35 left.
“When you’re down 25, it’s about pride and about effort,” Murray said. “We wanted to play hard and let the lead take care of itself. We saw the lead chip away like we did in the playoffs, we just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Leonard went out soon after but Denver never got the deficit under 10.
“They made a run, we lost Kawhi so we could have lost our composure, lost our game, but we took a good timeout,” Nicolas Batum said. “We kept moving the ball and made big shots.”