The Denver Nuggets returned from a three day recess on Saturday night as they looked for their fifth straight win and second road win over the Los Angeles Clippers this season. It did not go as planned. The defense was absent and Nikola Jokic was ejected in the third quarter of a 21-point blowout—the first such loss for the Nuggets this season. The final score read 132-111.
Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray combined for Denver’s first 14 points as the Nuggets leaned on their stars early in the absence of their patented ball movement. Denver recorded just one assist in the first nine minutes while their best players kept them afloat. The offense would get back on track by the end of the quarter, thanks to a small push from Malik Beasley and Mason Plumlee, but the defense that has propelled the Nuggets to the best record in the Western Conference was nowhere to be found.
The Clippers shot over fifty percent from the field and over forty percent from deep as Denver allowed blow-bys, missed rotations, and struggled to defend without fouling. Head coach Michael Malone called two timeouts in the quarter—the second one coming with just three minutes remaining, during which he blasted his team’s defensive effort and their identification of personnel, according to a sideline report from Altitude’s Katy Winge. The Clippers had their way offensively, particularly Tobias Harris, who couldn’t be stopped in the first 12 minutes. Los Angeles led 34-26 after one.
The second quarter featured another small push from the second unit, with Trey Lyles playing the role of aggressor. But Denver couldn’t pair baskets with stops and the lead hovered around ten for the majority of the quarter. Jokic and Murray picked up where they left off when the starters checked back into the game, but the unit continued to struggle defensively.
Denver was able to cut the lead down to six in the final minutes, and had the ball for what should have been the final possession of the half. But Murray pulled up for a mid-range jumper with 6 seconds remaining, and the Nuggets fouled a three point shooter as the clock neared zero. The Clippers took a nine point lead into the locker room. Tobias Harris led the way for LA with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Jokic was visibly upset with the officiating in the first half, practically begging for a technical as he barked and hollered after virtually every possession. It culminated in his ejection with 6:38 remaining in the third quarter, when Marcin Gortat fell to the ground along the baseline and a foul was called—yet another whistle that Jokic disagreed with. He was finally hit with a technical, but got more than he bargained for when he was quickly charged with a second and subsequently tossed from the game. The wheels began to fall off from there as the Clippers lead ballooned to 17 by the end of the quarter.
The Nuggets entered Saturday as the only team in the NBA who had yet to trail by twenty or more points, and the only team not to lose a game by more than 10. Both of those streaks ended in the fourth quarter. The Clippers pushed their lead to 27 points—a season-high deficit for the Nuggets—and Malone waived the proverbial white flag as Tyler Lydon and Thomas Welsh checked into the game.
Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris were the high-scorers for Los Angeles with 21 points each, and Montrezl Harrell added 20 and 10 as the Clippers shot over fifty percent from deep and the field overall.
Here’s a snapshot of NBA.com’s lead tracker. Not great.
The Nuggets will have three days to recuperate as they have the holiday off this year. They’ll get a shot at redemption on Wednesday, the 26th when they travel to San Antonio to take on the Spurs. That game tips off at 6:30 pm MT.