It's hard to ask for a more thrilling game than that.
I'm still wondering how this team managed to not only accrue a 16-point lead in the first half, blow it completely in the third quarter, and somehow pull out a 38 point fourth quarter to salvage the victory. I'll let you know when I figure that out.
In the first half, the Nuggets played in a very similar fashion to the way they played in the first half of Wednesday's loss against the Houston Rockets. Ball movement was fluid, defense was stifling, and the team seemed to finally be running on all cylinders. We even got a series of phenomenal three pointers from Nate Robinson, who finally turned in a game that reminded us of how deadly he can be when he catches fire. At the half, the Nuggets were shooting 58.5% from the floor (24-41) 50% from 3 (7-14), had 28 rebounds and 20 assists, leading the Clippers by 16 points. It all started to fall apart in the third though - everything came too easy, the Clippers couldn't continue their cold streak, and the Clippers went on an enormous run. A 27-5 run, in fact, led by a barrage of Blake Griffin 18 foot jumpers (which he absolutely couldn't hit in the first half). After leading by 16, the Nuggets trailed the Clippers at the end of the third quarter, 74-71.
While the crowd in the Pepsi stared on in disbelief at the sagging Nuggets, Shaw decided to insert a curious lineup: Ty Lawson, Nate Robinson, Alonzo Gee, Kenneth Faried, and Jusuf Nurkic. That group absolutely locked up the Clippers to begin the final frame and seized a 4 point lead with 10 minutes to play. It was bizarre to see that mix of players on the floor, but Shaw's chemistry experiment worked - the Clippers seemed totally discombobulated by Nurkic's length and Gee's glove-like defense. With the Nuggets again taking control, Kenneth Faried put a hard foul on DeAndre Jordan, and then all hell broke loose.
The next 8 minutes and 19 seconds was a series of technicals, flagrants, near-ejections and free throw attempts. After Faried's hard foul, DeAndre Jordan drew a technical while barking at the officiating crew, then Clippers head coach Doc Rivers screamed at referee Zack Zarba and earned himself a technical. Somehow Hedo Turkoglu also earned himself a technical foul (hilariously, ending up in the box score with 1 minute and a -1 on the night), and Nate Robinson drained 2 of 3. Faried's foul was ruled a flagrant, and Jordan stepped up and drained 2 of 2. Jordan then committed a flagrant of his own with a forearm shiver to Nurkic's throat, who then calmly drained 2 free throws of his own and a sweet jumper for four straight points to stabilize the lead.
At that point, the refs decided they had enough, and immediately started to call a series of touch fouls on both teams, including another technical on Faried and a second delay of game call on the Clippers (which Afflalo made). Two consecutive threes by Gallinari and Chandler gave the Nuggets a 7 point lead with 2 minutes to play, but it wasn't over yet. A series of mishaps - including a failed inbounds play that resulted in a Clippers possession and foul on Blake Griffin - let the Clippers back in it, and after Griffin's intentionally missed second free throw, the Clippers had three straight wide open looks from Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick and missed them all. It's hard to underscore how lucky the Nuggets got with those deadeye shooters missing what are normally easy looks, but they did.
Let's just call that game one more finger off the monkey paw.
Nuggets of Gold
- Finally, NATE ROBINSON!!!! I'm not sure that four exclamation marks are enough. Nate was phenomenal tonight and was the spark that blew the powder keg of the Nuggets' offense tonight. When he came in to spell Ty, Nate at last showed us what the Nate of old could do - catch fire faster than any player since Gilbert Arenas. His three consecutive threes and a running floater helped the Nuggets build their huge lead in the first half, and he was solid throughout the night. He ended with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists, and played his best game of the season so far.
- Jusuf Nurkic should be starting. He is an absolute force defensively (at just 20!) and is already intimidating opponents when they drive the lane. Nurkic's talent is starting to shine, and it's going to be hard for Shaw to keep him off the court. He's a capable passer, extremely hard to move in the post, and most importantly, has an incredibly developed basketball IQ for such a young player. He knows when to rotate, how to box out, position his body and look for his teammates. I'm very impressed with his game already, and people are going to look back at Nurkic as one of the best players to come out of the last draft - mark my words.
- Wilson Chandler continues to play his silent, unassuming but deadly game in a career season. His offensive game is better than ever, and he's a capable defensive stalwart. He's a poor team's Mole, and in some ways a lot better.
- Ty Lawson has now recorded his 19th consecutive game with 9 or more assists, and now has 14 double doubles on the year (out of 26 games), racking up 10 points to go with 14 dimes. While he's still struggling at the line for some inscrutable reason, Lawson is balling out of control right now.
- Can we give Brian Shaw even a little bit of credit after this one, folks? Despite the horrific third quarter, he helped this team snap a three-game skid with some very effective (if utterly baffling) rotations and still showed that he has trust in Robinson. Robinson responded and gave us the best game of the year. That was a savvy move from Shaw, and I'm glad to see that he and Nate Robinson both are able to shut out the noise.
Veins of Silver
- The Manimal played decently tonight, putting up 14 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists in 28 minutes, but contributed to the Clippers huge quarter run with inexcusably bad defense on an uncontested Blake Griffin jumper. Shaw immediately called timeout and benched Faried, a move I completely agreed with. While it didn't help to stop the run, Faried has got to show a greater commitment on the defensive end or step his game on offense. That means no more airballed 10 footers, Kenneth.
- Alonzo Gee's my favorite defender on this team. He is an absolutely frightening force to contend with on defense, like if you combined Dahntay Jones with Bruce Bowen and took away any shooting ability but added the hops of Blake Griffin. He's been a huge contributor to the most successful defensive stands this team has made, and has established himself as a vital contributor to this team.
- Danilo Gallinari played 24 effective minutes tonight, though it's clear that something is still off. Still, each game he's getting better defensively, and teams are starting to run at him when he's behind the arc. Gallinari is beginning to recognize that and bait defenses into committing silly fouls or driving to the rim, looking to pass off and set his teammates up for easy looks. Keep it up, Gallo!
- I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Timofey Mozgov's 13 and 8 tonight. He had a solid first half, but was largely useless and completely manhandled by DeAndre Jordan in the second half. Mozgov's frustrating inconsistency, even in one game, keeps me from fully trusting him as the team's go-to center. He's got to play stronger in the post and HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL. I want to see Mozgov trying to catch dodgeballs instead of shooting jumpers in the gym the next practice.
Lumps of Coal
- J.J. Hickson was invisible tonight, putting up just 2 points on 1-5 shooting and pulling down 6 rebounds while playing his always-terrible defense. Shaw did the right thing in limiting his minutes to just 15, while putting in the far more effective Nurkic for 17.
We should thank our lucky stars that this game didn't go into overtime - the Nuggets will play tomorrow night in a contest versus the Indiana Pacers starting at 7:00 PM MST in the Pepsi Center. Get ready to lace 'em back up, boys!
Quotes of the Night
"When Nate is Nate, it's like bad shots don't matter.
Although his bad shots tend to come from three, which is good."
"You know Griffin and Jordan jump but…. I play smart"