The LA Clippers were up 13 and just over 13 minutes away from their first trip to the Western Conference finals.
And then the Clippers did what they said they didn't want to do in this best-of-seven series -- give the resilient Denver Nuggets life.
"They are going to keep fighting," Kawhi Leonard said. "It's a learning lesson for us. We had leads like this all year and teams have come back on us."
For the sixth time this season, the Clippers lost a game they'd been leading by 15 or more, tied for the most in the NBA this regular season and postseason, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. But this time, the Clippers wasted their first opportunity this postseason to make the conference finals as Denver stunned LA 111-105 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, to force a Game 6.
The Nuggets, who became the 12th team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in the first round against Utah, trailed by 16 late in the second quarter. The Clippers later held an 80-67 lead with 1:25 remaining in the third quarter before Denver went on a 35-14 run.
"We definitely lost our discipline," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "There is no doubt about that. That would be the lesson."
Paul Millsap got the comeback going by scoring 14 points in the third quarter. The Clippers then missed 18 of 25 shots in the fourth quarter while allowing Jamal Murray to find rare breathing room. Murray drilled all three of his 3-point attempts in the fourth and finished with 26 points, only the second time that he broke 20 points against the Clippers' defense in this series.
Nikola Jokic buried two 3's and scored 11 of his 22 points in the fourth-quarter comeback.
Meanwhile, Leonard and Paul George combined to score 21 points in the fourth, but Montrezl Harrell was the only other Clipper to score in the quarter with four points. Leonard finished with 36 points and nine rebounds in 39 minutes. George added 26 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
But the Clippers are now 0-6 in franchise history when they had a chance to clinch a conference finals berth. The Clippers will have to wait until Sunday to try to snap their 49-year drought and make the Western Conference finals for the first time.
"We gave them a little bit of life, and they played desperation ball," George said. "They didn't have a choice. They played desperation ball. Credit them for not wanting to go home. They played great down the stretch."
"... But again, we're in the driver's seat," George added. "We had them where we wanted them. Again we should have put them away. They came back, they won a game, and it comes down to Game 6."