Sure the Los Angeles Lakers are going for a three-peat, but Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Gordon put on one hell of a show. The trio combined for 64 points, 42 rebounds, 12 assists, 7 blocks and a +61 in the Clippers 106-93 victory over the road weary Denver Nuggets.
As tonight's game was coming to a close, ESPN's Bill Simmons (a Clippers season ticket holder for the past several years) Tweeted the following:
Lots of folks will quickly look to place the blame of lackluster Nuggets performances on the MeloDrama, but for those of us who actually follow the team it's the same old story. The Nuggets are a good team at the Pepsi Center and a garbage squad on the road. Denver is now 15-3 at home and 5-11 on the road.
Head coach George Karl can continue to blow smoke up our collective wazoos about the Nuggets having moral victories on the road with a team that hasn't been totally healthy, but healthy or not the Nuggets display the same issues on the road season-in-and-season-out: lack of moving the ball, lack of energy and lack of an attacking the paint. For a head coach that depends on his players to figure things out on their own and to respect the game, Karl sure hasn't figured out what to do with his team away from the Pepsi Center.
Simmons was right though ... the Nuggets did play hard tonight, but they also could not figure out how to translate hard play into smart play and they could not get the most basic fundamentals down i.e. boxing out and making crisp passes. The Nuggets had no business being in this game and the Clippers let the Nuggets hang around all night with turnovers of their own, missed shots and lack of experience.
During most of the game tonight you'd think that the Clippers were the team currently ranked 6th in the Western Conference and you'd think the Nuggets were the team with the third worst record in the West. L.A. got their 11th win of the season and the Nuggets continued to build on their road record in the wrong direction.
Yes, the Nuggets started the game with a complete roster for the first time this season, but things were not as good as they seemed. Kenyon Martin only played 16 minutes (and gave up 7 points and I think just 4 rebounds to Blake Griffin ... Blake put up 15 points and I think 14 rebounds vs. other Nugget defenders), Ty Lawson only played 9 minutes before suffering a left knee strain on a drive to the hoop and Al Harrington was clearly rusty after missing a few games with a dislocated right thumb. J.R. Smith also went out late in the game after colliding with Gordon and spraining an ankle. Not totally sure who will be available tomorrow in Sacramento, but I'm guessing Martin will rest and likely Lawson as well.
Denver started off the game on the wrong foot by taking jumpers and fading away inside against the shot blocking Jordan. We saw Arron Afflalo and Nene both get shots blocked in the opening minutes as they decided not to attack a shot blocker (bad move as you can draw fouls) and play right into his hands by fading away in the paint. Jordan ended the first half with 5 blocks (one goaltend not called on a Lawson layup) and ended the game with 6 total. The 22 year-old center also turned in a career-high 20 rebounds with 9 coming on the offensive glass ... the Nuggets had 10 offensive rebounds total.
The Clippers dynamic combination of Griffin and Jordan looks like the best young power forward/center combo in the league. I think the L.A. can clearly look to dump Chris Kaman and continue building around Jordan as their center of the future. Jordan likes to play at a fast pace, can really jump on alley-oops and blocks, get to any rebound with his length, but needs to work on his offensive game.
Denver had trouble keeping the game close and every time they got within striking distance they seemed to suffer a turnover, an offensive foul, a bad shot or just missed easy attempts. And the Clippers made Denver pay every time. With the score 19-17 L.A. in the first quarter the Clippers went on a quick 9-2 run (28-19) and finished the quarter up 30-23.
In the second quarter the Clippers appeared to be on the verge of running away with the game and got up by as many as 15 (49-34) before the Nuggets battled back with a three by J.R. and a rare 4-point play from Billups with just 23.4 seconds remaining in the half. Denver closed the lead to 51-43, but things just didn't feel right. Denver was playing bad, but somehow staying in the game. I don't really attribute Denver's bad play and close score to them, but rather to the Clippers not having the experience yet of being able to step on an opponent's throat when they knock them down.
In the third quarter the Nuggets closed the gap quickly and were within three points at 51-48, but again the Clippers maintained their lead and even got a Lawson like few possessions from rookie point guard Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe, despite sharing the same last name as former NFL quarterback statue Drew Bledsoe, has the same blazing speed as Lawson and burned the Nuggets by getting into the paint and attacking the rim. He was responsible for pushing the Clipper lead at the end of the third as they took a 82-74 lead into the final quarter.
The Nuggets made a game of it in the opening minutes of the fourth and got the lead all the way down to four-points a couple times at 82-78 and 84-80 with 8:03 remaining, but that was as close as it would get. The Clippers turned on the gas up 86-80, finally, and from that point as Gordon buried a three they closed the game on a 20-13 run.
The Clippers are on the cusp of what looks like a promising future, that's been said more than a few times in their history, and hopefully for their fans things will pan out this time. It's very hard to win three-games in a row against one team and the Nuggets are now 2-1 vs. the Clippers. The two teams wont meet again until March 5 in Los Angeles ... will be very interesting to see if both of these teams still have all their players.
- Like I mentioned above, K-Mart gave up 7 points and I think just 4 rebounds to Griffin when they were on the floor tonight. On the flipside, Martin was 0-3 with 3 rebounds and a +5 for Denver (the best of all the starters ... no surprise). Griffin looked a touch hesitant to drive on Kenyon and he settled for a couple jumpers in spots where it looked like he should have gone to the rim.
- Melo had a weird game. At the end of the first half, instead of tossing the ball the length of the court he decided to hang onto the ball and then just flung it over his head and nearly made a basket in his own hoop ... the shot looked to leave his hand just after time expired, but not a very smart play. At the 6:02 mark of the third, Melo bounced a ball to the hoop after the whistle and was called for a technical before Danny Crawford changed it to a delay of game. Melo had 31 points on 12-26 shooting, 9 rebounds (4 offensive), 2 assists, 1 steal, was 7-9 from the foul line, but also had 5 turnovers and allowed 13 points to Ryan Gomes. While Melo scored a lot of points and was active on the offensive glass he just didn't seem to really stamp the game in the Nuggets favor. The Clippers energy tonight was too great.
- Denver combined for 16 assists tonight ...
- Denver is now 1-8 on the road when they have 19 assists or less ...
- The Nuggets were out-rebounded 57-43 tonight and Shelden Williams and Renaldo Balkman both recorded DNP-CDs. And where was Gary Forbes???
- Al Harrington was awful tonight as he was 0-5 from the field before hitting a meaningless three with about a minute left in the game. He finished 1-7 on the night with 3 points, 5 rebounds (1 offensive), 2 turnovers and 5 fouls.
- Chauncey Billups finished the game with 25 points on 5-14 shooting all five makes coming from downtown (5-8), 10-11 from the freebie line, just 3 assists and 2 turnovers. In the third quarter Billups hit a three and with the make passed Bill Russell on the all time scoring list with 14,525 points to Russell's 14,522 points.