After a three game home stand where the Denver Nuggets earned three victories optimism was at an all time high leading into tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Unfortunately tired legs on the second night of a back to back put the Nuggets behind early as the Clippers took advantage of some lackluster defense and poor ball movement. After they got up, LA stayed up with their starters outperforming the Nuggets counterparts by a wide margin. In the end big performances from J.J. Redick and Chris Paul lead the Clippers to a win in a game that really was never in doubt and was a laugher by mid third quarter.
The Nuggets opened ice cold from the floor. With DeAndre Jordan patrolling the paint they were hesitant to take the basketball to the rim and settled for jump shots or floaters instead which were not falling. The Clippers meanwhile were converting their attempts and they jumped out to an early 10-2 lead. Following a timeout Denver tightened up their defense but Redick had the hot hand early on which kept the Clippers in a double digit lead. Coach Michael Malone switched to a smaller lineup with Kenneth Faried at center and Will Barton at small forward to try to get some energy going but the Clippers were making their jump shots (not too many of them were contested). Barton led a 12-6 run to close out the quarter which left the Nuggets trailing by ten at the end of one.
Jamal Murray led the bench on a scoring run to open the second quarter which got the Clippers lead as close as three points but that would be as close as the Nuggets would get for the rest of the game. LA’s bench would respond to keep the Nuggets from taking the lead and the reserve units traded baskets through the first half of the second quarter. Faried and Barton led the charge for Denver to keep the Clippers within six points when the starters checked back in. Redick again was finding a multitude of ways to score the basketball which helped the Clippers to get their lead back above double digits as they went on an 15-3 run. LA continued to dominate as the half wound down and they held a fifteen point lead after two quarters.
The teams traded baskets early in the third with the Clippers maintaining a lead in the low teens. A couple of threes by LA got their advantage to nineteen points which forced coach Malone to take a timeout. Out of the TO Mudiay tried to get things going with a drive to the basket but he was obliterated by Jordan. As the game progressed to the halfway point of the third quarter Denver looked like they were running out of gas. When they could get a basket the Clippers would respond and the Nuggets looked less and less enthused about the idea of penetrating the lane while Jordan was in there. Doc Rivers kept his starters in for an extended amount of time, probably trying to put the Nuggets away early, and to his credit Denver offered little resistance. They trailed by nearly thirty points when the Clippers subs finally started checking in and had it not been for a string of Gallo threes the lead could have been close to forty. As it stood the Nuggets trailed by twenty-three after three quarters.
Both teams opened the fourth quarter with their bench units and Jameer Nelson led the Nuggets reserve unit early as they put the Clippers lead back below twenty. That appeared to be as close as Denver could get though. Every time it looked like they might make a run to try and get back in it someone from the Clippers bench, usually Austin Rivers, would respond with a bucket to sap Denver’s momentum. The game was well in hand by around the mid fourth quarter when Murray and Barton at least treated the fans to an impressive break away alley oop. It did little to capture the momentum as the Clippers continued to keep their lead just above 20. Around that time coach Malone waived the white flag and the Clippers mop up unit would close out the game for a 119-102 victory.
Best matchup: Luc Mbah a Moute vs Danilo Gallinari
A sneaky good match up ended up being the best one of the night as this pair of stretch fours/big threes showed off their versatility on the offensive end. Mbah a Moute got plenty of open looks with Redick scoring the way he was and Mbah a Moute converted them. He had a very efficient night shooting the ball both from the field and from the free throw line. Meanwhile Gallo was by far the best starter on the night for Denver and he was the only reason the starters were able to even make a modicum of resistance against the Clippers. He got hot from the three point line in the third quarter which was the last gasp for Denver tonight but more importantly after having a so-so start to the season Gallo has quietly been stringing together some good games.
Key thing I noticed: For the first time the new starting lineup fell flat
After three straight games of getting out to early leads and never looking back the Nuggets dug themselves a hole early in this one. The starters gave up a 10-2 run to open the game and then gave up an 15-3 run when the unit checked back in towards the end of the second quarter. There was little difference in the way that unit played in the second half as well with the Clippers once again extending their lead as the second half begun and then ultimately putting Denver away by mid third quarter. It was noticeable that the Nuggets starter were tired. There was little ball movement and everyone settled for jump shots on offense while on defense their closeouts were lackadaisical and there was little effort to fight through screens. Would have liked to see better, even in a tough match up.
Closing thought: Schedule losses happen but I would have liked to see more
The fact that the Nuggets traveled to LA late last night after playing the Dallas Mavericks yesterday put them in a tough to win situation, especially with a team as talented as LA. Nonetheless the play from the starting unit was disappointing. They really played with poor effort when it comes down to it and above all else that is what has been plaguing Denver in their most recent losses. After three straight wins it was easy to start getting hopes up but getting blown out tonight still shows how much growth this team still needs. Hopefully this lights a fire under them, especially the starters, and they come out strong when they’re in LA again a game from now.