The Los Angeles Clippers went into one of the toughest buildings in the league, against the hottest team in the league, and came away with a 109-105 win. And the weird thing is they didn't play that well. What they did was shoot well.
Chauncey Billups scored a game high 32 in his Denver homecoming against his former Nuggets team. Billups made 6 of 12 three pointers, and the Clippers as a team made 14 of 30 threes, more than one of them of the bail out variety late in shot clocks.
The Clippers gave up a 12-1 run to fall behind by ten points early in the fourth quarter with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul on the bench. It was the biggest deficit of the game for the Clippers, but they brought their Paul and Griffin back into the game and immediately went on a 10-0 run to tie the game.
Down the stretch, Billups made the play of the game with a difficult and-one with the score tied at 99. Lawler's Law clicked in on the bucket, and the Clippers were bound to win the game. As if that were not enough, Billups also made the defensive play of the game. With the Clippers clinging to a two point lead and 17 seconds left, Billups got switched onto Nene on a pick and roll. Although he was at a massive size disadvantage, Billups is one of the few guards in the league with enough strength to bother Nene. He crowded the big Brazilian, and when the pass finally came Nene pushed off to gain some space and was called for the offensive foul that essentially iced the game for the Clippers.
Chris Paul played his most aggressive game on the offensive end since returning from his hamstring injury, taking 19 shots and scoring 25 points. He also had 7 assists and 6 rebounds. He finished the game plus-19, which is a huge number in a four point final. Paul played 38 minutes, so some quick math tells me that the Nuggets outscored the Clippers by 15 in the 10 minutes that Paul was on the bench. Paul's importance was obvious watching the game. Each time he sat down, the Clippers immediately went into a funk and became completely disorganized on offense. Even with Billups playing out of his head and Mo Williams remaining on a roll (he had 12 tonight on just six shots), Paul's absence left the Clippers offense a mess.
Blake Griffin (17 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks) had a similar effect: he was plus-21 in 40 minutes. Although he did not have a great game offensively, that was largely a product of the attention the Denver defense was giving him. The Clippers probably shouldn't expect to make 14 threes many more times this season (this was only the sixth time they've made 14 or more threes in franchise history), but it is true that they were getting some clean looks when they played inside out off of Griffin. Griffin also had a career high four blocked shots, and his buddy DeAndre Jordan had five.
As advertised, the Nuggets got a balanced effort, led by Nene with 18, Danilo Gallinari with 17, and Andre Miller and Al Harrington with 16. Miller, the former Clipper, almost won the game for the Nuggets in the final two minutes. After Billups had broken the 99 all tie with his three point play, Miller went to work. First he drew a foul and made both free throws. After the Clippers scored, he beat Paul off the dribble and found Nene for a dunk, then stole a pass, and on an almost identical play fed Nene for another dunk to put the Nuggets back on top, 105-104. But those were Denver's final points, as Chris Paul drew a foul and made two free throws, and the Clippers got two key stops down the stretch (including Billups' play on Nene).
Although I'm not sure that the Clippers wholly deserved this win (the hot shooting was a determining factor tonight, but might be fool's gold in the long run if they continue to settle for jump shots), it was a victory they sorely needed. It's only the team's second road win of the season, and their first against a team with a winning record. The fact that it came against one of only two teams in the West ahead of the Clippers in the standings is a huge confidence boost as well. Oh, and they play the other team tomorrow night.
The Clippers stole this game. And that's what good teams do. In addition to winning the games they're supposed to win, they also find ways to steal games they're probably not supposed to win.