The Denver Nuggets had a quick one game homestand with the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night which also served as their second NBA Cup game. Paul George was big for L.A. and James Harden had his best scoring outing in a Clippers uniform but Nikola Jokic was up to the task. L.A.’s lack of size ultimately spelled doom with Joker dominating in the post and on the glass. He got help on the offensive end from former Clipper Reggie Jackson and Aaron Gordon. Denver led early, fell behind late and then mounted a comeback to close out another W 111-108.

Both teams started the game cold from the field, including a Nuggets possession that saw three shot attempts and zero field goals. George scored the first seven points for the Clippers while Jokic and Jackson scored the first eight for Denver. The first sub for Denver was of note, Jalen Pickett replaced Jackson. Jokic continued to guide Denver’s offense and George continued to be the consistent scorer for L.A. then Denver’s bench started to check in for the second half of the quarter. They showed much more energy than in the previous two games and led a charge to take the lead. Meanwhile, Harden did most of the damage for the Clippers through sheer volume while George was getting a rest. Pickett hit a nice step back three with under a minute to go and Denver took a 28-26 lead into the second quarter.

George picked up where he left off to start the second quarter with five quick points while Christian Braun was having his best shift of the early season. The bench wasn’t perfect for the Nuggets but it did enough to keep in front early in the second. The Clippers started to sputter a bit and found themselves in a dangerous situation when they trailed by five with the starters plus Pickett checking back into the game. Jokic struggled with his shot but his teammates picked him up. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope knocked down a pair of threes while Pickett played strong defense keeping Denver in front halfway through the quarter. They tightened up the defense as a group after that and pushed the lead to ten forcing Ty Lue to take a timeout. It didn’t pay any dividends but Norman Powell did keep the Nuggets from growing the lead more. George canned a three in the closing seconds to trim it to eight at halftime.

The Clippers took advantage of some sloppy play to start the second half to pull within five. Denver held them off but they continued to struggle to execute on offense. Porter finally found his shot which was the only thing Denver had going while L.A. slowly chipped away at the lead. Things got more physical as the quarter progressed and the offenses stayed stagnant. Denver traded free throws to L.A. three pointers and after George knocked down a corner triple the lead was down to two. The Nuggets kept the lead right around there with the quarter waning. Jokic checked out with them clinging to a three point lead and just over two minutes left. The bench group didn’t have the same success they did in the first half. Turnovers and Harden flopping resulted in L.A. taking the lead with thirty seconds left in the quarter. Harden knocked down a three with four seconds to go but the Nuggets captured some momentum right at the end with Aaron Gordon hitting a deep buzzer beater three to tie it up 84-84.

Braun continued his good play to start the fourth while the refs had a heavy whistle grinding the game to a halt. Malone brought Jokic back in with eight and a half minutes left and the game tied at 89. The Clippers went on a mini-run to get up by four and make Denver take a timeout. George continued to lead the charge and the game started to feel eerily similar to the Houston game where Denver faltered down the stretch. With L.A. up by seven MPJ finished a monster alley-oop which sparked a 6-0 run and it was clear the game was going to come down to a tight finish. Next, Joker started to do work down low. The Clippers tried Kawhi Leonard and George on him but they left Ivica Zubac and P.J. Tucker on the bench and the size advantage started to really hurt L.A. Jackson blew by his man for a layup with just over a minute to go to put Denver up by three and make the Clippers call timeout. Leonard couldn’t hit a jumper and Gordon got a dunk on the other end to push it to five and put the Clippers in crisis mode. Denver gave them life by missing a pair of free throws and then turning it over to see their lead go to one with 15 seconds left. They got it back to three, George shot a wedgie and Jokic controlled the tip on the jump ball to seal the win. Denver escapes 111-108.

Best matchup Nikola Jokic vs whoever L.A. threw at him

Nov 14, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) rebounds the ball past LA Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) in the second quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

As I said in the preview, the Clippers are undersized in general as a team right now. They tried a combination of players from Zubac and Tucker to Leonard and George on Jokic but none of it really worked. In the fourth quarter in particular it hurt them as Jokic just bullied his way to points. He ends the game with thirty-two points, sixteen rebounds and nine assists. George did everything he could on his end to offset Jokic with his own scoring barrage but he also chucked up a clutch wedgie…not the best.

Jalen Pickett played well

Pickett got his first taste of meaningful NBA action tonight and responded well. He had a couple of turnovers but otherwise played within the game and played tough defense. The Nuggets have a track record of playing young players in the G-League to start a development path that ends up in regular rotation minutes (Torrey Craig, Monte Morris, Peyton Watson) and I think that’s ultimately the path they hope Pickett goes down as well. For now, with Jamal Murray hurt, Pickett will get his opportunities in the NBA and if he continues to have games like tonight where he doesn’t hurt the team he’ll help accelerate that development path.

The thing to bet sunk almost off the get go

George was the best player on offense for the Clippers and his twelve points in the first quarter spelled bad news for those of us on the under for his points (21.5). Leonard ended up being the wing who struggled to score as he dealt with Gordon defending him most night. You win some, you lose some as they say which is all the more reason to take advantage of our ESPN Bet promo code LEHIGH to get up to $250 of free bets.