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Los Angeles Clippers 106 - Denver Nuggets 93 - Finishing Strong

I'm going to post a quick recap from Staples before I head home. With three days off until the next game, we'll have plenty of time to savor this victory, as well as to talk about it and post about it if we like.

The Clippers managed to avoid any prolonged swoons and actually pulled away from a good team in the fourth quarter tonight. This was a welcome relief of course, after so many blown halftime leads this season. As I said on the game thread at the beginning of the second half, it doesn't matter if you don't build the lead too big, as long as you just win the second half. In fact, the Clippers didn't lose a single quarter in this game (they tied the third quater, 31-31).

It felt a little dicey there when Chauncey Billups started making threes. But the Clippers defense tightened up and ran him off the three point line and the Nuggets just didn't get a lot of clean looks down the stretch. It was the defense that won the game tonight, holding Denver to 19 points in the fourth quarter.

The game ball goes to DeAndre Jordan, who had easily his most complete game as a pro. Looking at his stat line, there's just nothing not to like, and if anything he was even better than his stats. He scored 14 points on 5 of 7 shooting (one of his misses was a dunk near the end), and tied a career high with 20 rebounds. He also had 6 blocked shots, running his torrid shot blocking streak to 19 in three games. He even made 4 of 6 free throws, including a pair in answer to the Hack-a-DJ when the Nuggets still had hope. To top it all off, he had three assists against only one turnover, and only three fouls.

The Clippers bench, aside from Eric Bledsoe who played pretty well, was dreadful the whole evening, so it was a series of plays early in the fourth quarter where DJ really had a huge impact. With most of the other starters on the bench including Blake Griffin, DJ kept balls alive on the offensive glass, grabbed every defensive rebound, and had one spectacular tip in as well. It was exactly the situation in which the Clippers had fallen apart in recent games - and DJ almost single-handedly wouldn't let it happen.

And then there was the fun stuff. For a couple of stretches, once in the first quarter abnd again in the second, the Clippers were a real time highlight package - no need for editing, it was just one highlight after another. On one particular two-on-one break after a DeAndre blocked shot, Blake and Baron were toying with the defense - Blake got the ball to Baron, who made the lob back almost as quickly as a setter in volleyball. I'm supposed to be impartial and stoic when I'm in the press area covering the game, but when Griffin unleashed a one handed tomahawk on that pass, I almost pulled a muscle stopping myself from jumping out of my seat. However, that play might have been topped by the play in the fourth quarter when Griffin set up Jordan on the lob. Now, Blake isn't quite as adept at putting the ball where it needs to be as DJ, and when the ball left his hand I thought it was sailing out of bounds; it was way too high, and behind DeAndre. Somehow, Jordan just reached higher and further than I thought he could and windmilled the ball through the rim. Wow. I mean, just, really, you know, wow.

The Clippers needed this win. After losses to Utah and Atlanta in which they lost big leads, it was beginning to feel like the 5 of 6 wins run was fool's gold. Maybe they'd just beaten a series of down teams, maybe they weren't really ready to play winning basketball on a consistent basis. This win does a lot to answer those questions. Against a talented and accomplished Nuggets team, playing at full strength, the still short-handed Clippers got a win in which they never trailed after midway through the first quarter. This is a great confidence boost heading into Sunday's game against the Warriors, with the Heat and the Lakers looming.

Bizarre Whistle of the Game: Without the benefit of the DVR, I'm going with the foul on Eric Bledsoe on J.R. Smith's dunk attempt, but I'm doing so with some hesitation. I don't know what happened on that play; J.R. is a great dunker, and I can't for the life of me figure out why he would fake a foul when he's got a dunk. He wouldn't; so something happened. Did he slip? I don't know. I watched the replay on the monitor, and I'm assuming that Bledsoe's shoe nudged J.R.'s right at liftoff; not much, but enough to cause him to lose his balance. Now, having said that, there's no way the ref could possibly have seen it - I watched it three or four times on the replay and I'm still not sure what happened. BUT, I'm not at all surprised that a foul was called - the reaction was real, and so the ref is going to assume that something happened. So it was a bizarre play, though I'm not sure I would consider it a bizarre whistle.

D.J. in the Key Watch: A great start to our new feature! DeAndre Jordan was called for only a single defensive three second violation, and did not have even one on offense. Each flavor is bad, but I have a little more sympathy for him on the defensive calls, where the rules are more complex and more subjective ("am I close enough to that offensive player to reset the count or not?") I couldn't really remember a single game where D.J. didn't have any offensive lane violations, so this indeed was a banner game for Jordan.