Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold.
On another chilly night in Denver, the Nuggets froze out the Los Angeles Clippers with incredible defense on Blake Griffin (4-11, 12 pts, 9 rebs, 2 ast) and Chris Paul (4-9, 10 pts, 6 ast, 4 reb, 2 stl) to put an end to their 17 game winning streak. Both Kenneth Faried (5-11, 14 pts, 11 rebs, 2 stl, 1 blk) and Andre Miller (6-9, 12 pts, 12 ast, 1 stl) recorded double doubles - thoroughly outplaying their counterparts. For a team on a roll like the Clippers, watching Faried and Miller essentially shut down Paul and Blake was an eye-opener.
This was the Nuggets' best defensive performance on the year. The Clippers shot 38.5% from the floor (just 17% from 3), turned the ball over 13 times, and recorded only 15 assists on 78 points (outscored 54-40 in the paint). That's quite a contrast to when they scored 112 against the Nuggets on Christmas Day, huh?
Amazingly, Old Man Miller played 41 minutes tonight - and looked the better of Chris Paul. While the Nuggets were certainly helped by the fact that the Clippers couldn't hit the ocean with an asteroid from outside, Miller's savvy play helped force Paul into 3 turnovers and a lot of expected whining to the refs. He may move like molasses on the perimeter, but when he's backed up by solid rotations the Nuggets are able to cover up much of his defensive weaknesses. He's still one of the best floor generals in the NBA with a (usually) steady hand.
Meanwhile, Faried firmly established that he does not care much for Blake Griffin, shoving, hacking, and pushing all night. What's amazing is that this physicality, so absent on the road-weary team before the new year, seems to be exactly how to shut down the Clippers. Once you start getting into the bodies of Griffin and Paul, they start to get frustrated and taken out of their game. Faried still needs to work on his low post defense and defensive awareness, where he continues to struggle with being out of position and closing out on shooters. The Nuggets are now 14-1 when Faried records a double double. As long as Manimal keeps up this frenetic rebounding pace it's hard to get too frustrated with his defense. He does so many other things so well.
JaVale McGee had a quietly very effective night in 17 limited minutes, (5-10, 11 pts, 7 rebs, 3 ast, 1 blk), throwing down a number of excellent jams on the heads of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. He's getting better and better, and if he can just keep the dumb turnovers off the Shaqtin' A Fool highlight reels, maybe Karl will ease up on that doghouse leash a bit. He even displayed some nifty inside passing to Kosta Koufos and Kenneth Faried for nice buckets. To cap it all off, McGee made his first 3 point shot - ever (1-5) - as a buzzer beater to end the third quarter. Free McGee!
Andre Iguodala (5-10, 12 pts, 8 ast, 7 rebs, 2 stl) saw a few minutes as the point forward tonight, when Karl subbed out Andre Miller. It was fascinating watching Karl employ a lineup featuring no point guard, when he's quite fond of keeping two on the court at the same time. It was also one of the biggest lineups I'd ever seen - at one point, I think we saw Iguodala-Brewer-Faried-Gallinari-Koufos. While Iguodala did rack up 8 dimes, it wasn't something I necessarily want to see the Nuggets repeat in the future. Karl's reluctance to involve largely untested rookie Evan Fournier in a close game against a good opponent is understandable, but he must see more minutes in the future if Ty's absence is extended.
Danilo Gallinari's stroke is starting to come back (6-15, 17 pts, 6 rebs) and he had several critical threes to help preserve or extend the Nuggets' big lead through the late third and fourth quarters. He pitched a mean alley oop to Timofey Mozgov who threw it down with authority, and I was actually fairly comfortable with Danilo's spot in Karl's "no PG lineup". Gallo's shot selection still leaves something to be desired at times, but he's definitely finding the rhythm he had so absent in the first part of the season.
Evan Fournier (2-4, 6 pts) saw some action to rest Miller's legs, and started by immediately committing a turnover and missing two free throws. Despite getting some early yips, Fournier made 2 good threes and looks like he can contribute should he ever see meaningful minutes from Karl.
As a final thought, it's interesting to note how effective the Nuggets looked on both ends of the floor tonight - without Ty Lawson. It's no secret that Lawson's play to date has been flatter than Iman Shumpert's haircut. The whole team seemed to move and cut much more effectively, even in the half court, while Dre led the offense. While it'd certainly be tough for Ty to swallow - especially after that fat contract that hasn't resulted in better play - perhaps Denver should seriously consider moving him to the bench.