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Shorthanded Clippers Fall Short Against Nuggets, 106-102

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Missing three of the Core Four, the Clippers came up a few buckets shy of closing out the Denver Nuggets.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Undermanned and overworked, the deepest squad in recent Clipper memory fell just short of closing out the visiting Nuggets, 106-102.

Missing stars Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and JJ Redick, and playing a fourth game in five nights, Jamal Crawford and remaining company overcame a terrible second quarter and a 17-point halftime deficit only to wilt in the final minutes to a Denver team they pounded just six days ago.

That 17-point Nuggets lead was built atop a 40-23 second quarter in which Mike Malone’s men converted an unfathomable 82% of their field goal attempts. Able to outbreak the justifiably sluggish Clippers, Will Barton scored all 14 of his first-half points on just six shots, also adding five assists in the highest-scoring quarter the Clippers have allowed all season. Barton finished with 23.

Nikola Jokic, who had a quiet nine points last Tuesday night, poured in 12 of his team-high 24 in Denver’s second-quarter explosion. Jokic also knocked down the go-ahead three with 2:36 remaining in the game. The Serbian big man who’s just old enough to drink legally showed off a well-rounded skill set, adding 10 rebounds, four assists, and three steals in 32 minutes of play.

Showing no inclination to merely pack it in and play for Wednesday, the Clippers burst out of halftime with a quick 10-0 run. By moving the ball with greater urgency and goading the Nuggets into costly turnovers, the Clippers closed to within two points by the end of the third.

A 13-3 third quarter run capped by a last-second Jamal Crawford trey swelled to 21-5 through the early minutes of the fourth, and the Clippers, propelled by Jamal’s shooting and Austin Rivers’ improved second-half play, led by as many as six points in the game’s final frame.

Jamal matched Jokic’s game-high 24, his third consecutive game over the 20-point mark, adding six assists in his role as the offense’s primary playmaker. Austin converted shots both inside and out, scoring 11 of his 19 points after halftime, although his five turnovers were tied for the game-high.

Unfortunately, whether by tired legs or minds, the Clippers’ ability to execute at either end of the floor waned in the game’s final minutes. The offense that whirred through most of the second half ground to an isolating halt. The defense failed to make the necessary stops, and despite another Jamal three-pointer that shrank the lead to two with 10 seconds to play, the Clippers found themselves unable to fend off the better rested Nuggets.

The Clippers resume play on Wednesday in New Orleans.

Notables:

  • As noted in the Prime Ticket broadcast, this was the Clippers’ fourth game since last Tuesday’s win over Denver, and only the Nuggets’ second.
  • Jamal Crawford and Wes Johnson each made their first start of the season.
  • DeAndre Jordan seemed to lack chemistry with Doc’s newly chosen starters, and his 12 points and 11 rebounds came more quietly than such numbers would indicate. He frequently looked out of position in contrast to what has been a stellar defensive season.
  • Ray Felton logged 31 minutes in a reserve role, but his 10 points came on a poor 5-for-14 shooting performance. Brandon Bass also managed double digits in scoring, with 7 of his 11 points coming from the free-throw line.
  • Danilo Gallinari scored 23 with 11 rebounds, and his 11-of-12 free throw performance helped seal the Denver victory.