Murray, Leonard shine as Nuggets and Raptors level playoff series

Los Angeles (AFP) –


Jamal Murray scored 34 points, including six clutch free throws down the stretch to lift the Denver Nuggets to a gritty 116-112 NBA playoff win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.

The 22-year-old Canadian Murray combined with Serbian Nikola Jokic to form a dynamic scoring duo as the Nuggets squared their second round Western Conference series at two games each.

It was a quick turnaround from the Trail Blazers' 140-137 quadruple overtime victory in Friday's game three.

Game four didn't last nearly as long as that three hour, 35 minute marathon, but it was another back-and-forth battle highlighted by Murray's precision shooting and a fourth playoff triple-double from Jokic.

"The biggest part was mental," said Murray on playing two playoff games just 40 hours apart. "We know what to do physically but that was a draining game and we had to come back with energy and face a great team.

"We were able to get what we wanted on offence and the stops on defense."

Jokic had 21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his second straight triple-double and Murray, who led all scorers, was a perfect 11-for-11 from the free throw line for Denver, who handed Portland their first playoff loss at home this season.

Game five is Tuesday at Denver.

CJ McCollum had 29 points and Damian Lillard added 28 for the Blazers.

Elsewhere, Kawhi Leonard scored 39 points and pulled down 14 rebounds to propel the Toronto Raptors to a 101-96 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers that knotted their Eastern Conference series at two games apiece.

Spanish center Marc Gasol added 16 points and Kyle Lowry contributed 14 for the Raptors, who held ailing Sixers center Joel Embiid to 11 points on two-of-seven shooting from the field.

The Raptors will try to seize a series lead when the action shifts back to Toronto for game five on Tuesday.

After losing back-to-back games, Leonard said the Raptors' mindset was to "come in and play hard".

"The whole team concept was coming in and playing harder, being smarter and take your shots," Leonard said. "We needed it. This is a big win, but we've got to come back and get it for game five."

Leonard scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a first half that finished with the Raptors holding a narrow 47-45 lead.

It was the first time in his career that he notched at least 15 points and 10 rebounds in a half.

After seven lead changes in the third quarter, the increasingly physical encounter was tied 75-75 heading into the fourth.

The Raptors were clinging to a 91-90 lead when Leonard drained a step-back three-pointer over a reaching Embiid with 1:01 left to play and three seconds left on the shot clock.

It put Toronto up 94-90 and the 76ers wouldn't get the gap below four points from there.

"I just saw there were about three seconds left on the clock," Leonard said of the clutch basket. "(Embiid's) so long so I just I just tried to fade away and shoot it over the top of him and luckily it went down."

The 76ers made connected on just five of 21 attempts from the field in the fourth quarter, missing nine straight in one span and the Raptors made seven free throws down the stretch to seal it.

- 4th quarter drought -

Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said a six-minute "drought" in the fourth quarter owed plenty to Toronto's determined defense.

"You give Toronto credit, their defense went up a new level and it was a closeout type of fourth period," he said.

"It was 75-75 at the end of the third and we went into a drought ... that was littered with missed layups, missed free throws, some open three sprinkled in with some turnovers."

Brown noted that Embiid's disappointing points total told an incomplete tale. The big man from Cameroon was battling a viral illness.

With eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocked shots, Brown said Embiid remained a key contributor.

"To his complete credit he just kind of willed his way through it," Brown said.