I said it could get ugly and indeed it did... for the Nuggets. George Karl can NOT be happy about losing to the Clippers 101-90.
This was a weird, weird game. Knowing that Maggette was out and that Mobley, Thornton and Ross were questionable, I was greeted in the pre-game with the information that Sam Cassell was sick and might not play. With a starting lineup of Knight, Thornton, Patterson, Thomas and Kaman, the Clippers' bigs quickly picked up two fouls each. For a long stretch of the first quarter, LA played Knight, Thornton, Patterson, Paul Davis and Aaron Williams - arguably numbers 9 through 13 on the Clippers' 15 man roster. At this point I could barely watch. Here's the thing though. It's really hard to get up to play a team that is beat up. And the Nuggets were flat. During one stretch while the score was 18-13 it seemed as if no one would ever score again. In fact, there were no field goals scored by either team for 3:20 of clock time. Yeesh. Still, against the Clippers' subs' subs Denver stretched a 2 point lead to 9 with a 10-3 run.
And then something really strange happened. Ross and Mobley unexpectedly entered the game, and the Generic Clippers outscored the Nuggets 88-68 the rest of the way.
I will say this - one advantage of playing a bunch of guys who are not great scorers is that they're in the NBA for a reason. And that's defense. Quinton Ross had one of those defensive games that we remember from a couple of seasons ago - a game changing game. Although Allen Iverson had a fantastic night, Ross made him work for absolutely everything. On numerous occasions I was in the process of saying out loud how great Ross played a defensive possession, as Iverson somehow scored a bucket. But Q (and the rest of the Clippers) also forced AI into 8 turnovers. He was also worn down by the fourth quarter, when he scored only 5 of his 29 points.
Meanwhile the combination of Ruben Patterson and Cat Mobley forced Carmelo Anthony into one of his patented horrible games in LA (put him on the list of stars the Clippers own, with Kevin Martin and Ben Gordon). Sure he scored 24 points - but he took 23 shots to get there. He made only 8 of 23 shots, and forced most of those. Do you ever get the impression that eventually AI is going to blow up at Melo? I mean, they're both phenomenal offensive basketball players. But Iverson works harder than anyone in the NBA, while Carmelo works harder than anyone in the DMV. How long is this going to work?
Chris Kaman was a monster once again. The Clippers should have gotten the ball to him much, much more than they did (7 shots, 9 free throw attempts). With the Nuggets wanting to allow Camby to roam on defense to pick up blocked shots on the weak side, they were guarding Kaman with Kenyon Martin and Eduardo Najera, meaning Kaman had a 4-5 inch height advantage. Martin and Najera worked hard to deny position, but when Kaman was able to get the ball in a good spot, it was all over. Meanwhile he grabbed 21 rebounds, including 18 on the defensive end, leading the Clippers to a big edge on the boards for the first time since they opened the season with four straight wins.
After looking amazing in the first nine games this season, if anything he looked better tonight. 17 points on 7 shots, 21 rebounds and 5 blocked shots, including several key blocks late. WOW. Maybe he really will make the All Star team.
I've already mentioned Q's defense, but he also had his first decent offensive night of the season. OK, it was better than decent - it was great. He tied Kaman for team high honors with 17, and without looking it up, I feel safe saying it's the first time that Q has ever led the team in scoring. (In the preview I was wondering who would step up - looking no further.) He was 7 for 11 in the game including 3 for 4 on his three pointers - and he missed his last two shots! His corner three midway through the second quarter gave the Clippers a five point lead, and both teams suddenly had the realization that the Clippers could actually win the game. Let's be clear - if he can make the open three from the corner, he will have a long, successful NBA career. If he makes some other shots as well, so much the better.
I was really hoping that Mobley wouldn't play in this game, simply because it seemed he needed time off to heal. But he played, and he was great on both ends, and best of all, he looked completely healthy - or at any rate he was not visibly gimpy as he had been in the last three games. For most of the fourth quarter, the Clippers ran the offense through Cat in the low post. It worried me, simply because the guy was getting pounded, but he seemed to either draw a foul (frustrating the Nuggets and taking time off the clock) or passed out for a three pointer (the Clippers made 4 in the fourth quarter, 8 in the game).
The Clippers super deep point guard rotation really came through tonight. Brevin Knight left the game with a groin injury in the third quarter. Who knows if MDsr was holding the illness-drained Cassell back all along, saving him for the fourth quarter, or if was forced into using him. But the net effect was 14 minutes of Brevin Knight, 20 minutes of Dan Dickau and 14 minutes of Sam Cassell. And with the exception of 3 minutes from Knight to start the second half, most of the minutes were contiguous - Knight at the beginning, Dickau in the middle, Cassell at the end. Never really seen anything like it. The three-headed point guard didn't have astounding numbers by any means - 14 points and 10 assists - but they all ran the team with confidence, providing much needed leadership the entire game. It's quite a luxury, not having to live through Daniel Ewing trying to get the ball upcourt or god forbid make an entry pass. (Of course without Q's 36 minutes, Dickau and Cassell can't play 34, so they owe him a Christmas card or something.)
I also have to say something about Al Thornton who got his first start as a pro. He continues to struggle from the field - 4 for 14 in this one - but... I LOVE THIS GUY! What an athlete! He has great size (he got 9 rebounds), he can create his shot, he's got the quickest second jump this side of Shawn Marion, and his stroke looks great. The ball will start falling for him (he still looks a little rushed on some shots). He showed no ill-effects of his twisted ankle, and he stands to get a LOT of minutes while Maggette is out of action. I think he's going to be a major contributor for this team in the second half of the season.
I loved the way the Clippers battled. They played great defense. They worked the matchups that favored them (Kaman and Mobley) and made the open shots that resulted. But having said all that, this was still Denver's game to lose, right?
I hate the Nuggets. Hate them. It's a visceral thing. Carmelo just bugs the shit out of me. The play in the first half where Mobley puts a hip into Melo is a great example. Maybe it hurt, I don't know. It wasn't me. But dammit man, you didn't get the call, get your hands up and play some defense. Don't let Cat make a three with you standing there whining, you baby.
JR Smith? Hate him. Obviously it's easier to hate him when he goes 2 for 7. Kenyon Martin? Hate him. I mean, didn't he know that he wasn't nearly as good as Jason Kidd made him look? Then again, if Kiki didn't understand that, maybe Kenyon didn't either. Do they have an offense? I did not see them run a set all night. It's all Iverson and Anthony, all the time.
So, coming while the Clippers were severely depleted, against the hated and supposedly-hot Nuggets, this was one sweet win. Hell, it's the Clippers only win against a team with a winning record so far. The fact that I got to watch it in Denver just made it a little sweeter. I'll wear the Clippers cap with pride at the Thanksgiving table tomorrow (at least until my mom makes me take it off).
P.S. Beach Volleyball legend Chris Marlowe is the Nuggets' play-by-play guy. Old time socal guys will remember Marlowe and Paul Sunderland as a long ago beach tandem, then as broadcasters who worked Olympic volleyball competitions and then college basketball for Fox Sports in LA. Sunderland was the interim Lakers play-by-play man on TV after Chick Hearn's death, and Marlowe is now the Nuggets guy. Not bad for a couple of beach bums.