The Denver Nuggets were able to capitalize on the lackadaisical Los Angeles Clippers and steal an 87-81 win at STAPLES Center Wednesday night. Despite having played a hard-fought game in Denver against the Kings the night before, the Nuggets were the aggressor against what should've been a well-rested Clipper bunch. Kenneth Faried contributed a 21-point, 11-rebound double-double in only 23 minutes to lead Denver to its 23rd win of the season. Neither team shot well at all (LAC 35%, DEN 38%), and the Clippers had opportunities to steal it in the latter stages. They just couldn't execute. In the end, this was an awful loss for L.A.
The Clips led 11-2 before Clipper Darrell even found his seat, but Denver went on a subsequent 13-0 run to go ahead 19-14. Not that the Clippers are used to getting a ton of offense from three of their starters, but J.J. Redick and Chris Paul combined to score the first 19 points for LAC. The offense stagnated considerably as the home team apparently didn't have a ton of interest in trying to attack the bucket. 15 (!!!) of LAC's 20 field goal attempts in the first came from beyond-the-arc. They only made five, though, and the Nuggets took a 23-19 lead into quarter No. 2.
Via NBA.com, here's L.A.'s shot chart from the first. The area inside the three-point line looks pretty blank, no?
One shot inside the paint, and it was a miss. NOT GREAT, GUYS.
The first points from someone not named Paul or Redick came via a Jamal Crawford elbow jumper early in the second. A couple more consecutive hoops prompted a Mike Malone timeout with L.A. back on top, 25-23. Outside of Jamal, though, the second unit wasn't able to get much going on offense, either. Perhaps they just figured that with Denver on the second half of a back-to-back that they could just show up and win with ease, but there was a noticeable lack of urgency and energy to what the Clippers were doing at this point.
LAC remained stagnant even after the starters returned before Kenneth Faried happened. In just 4:40 of playing time in the second, The Manimal scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds (all offensive) to spur a 14-0 Nuggets run to end the half. Denver came in as the league's fifth-best offensive rebounding team (per OREB%), while the Clips remain one of the league's worst defensive rebounding units. Clearly, this isn't a good combination for LAC. When rickety ol' Paul Pierce is tasked with trying to keep someone as springy as Faried off the glass, bad things tend to happen for the Clippers.
LAC finally seemed to gain a bit of steam early in the third with a run to make it 59-51, but a Gary Harris triple killed any momentum they may have had. The Clippers kept chucking (and missing) threes, though Denver wasn't able to capitalize on LAC's lack of execution. A clearly hobbled Chris Paul struggled to assert himself, which effectively killed any chance the Clips had of exposing what has been a porous Denver defense all year long. After three, though, the Nuggets were able to maintain a sizable 71-62 lead.
The lack of any sort of rhythm for the Clippers crept into the fourth, as the Nuggets continued to show more will and desire. There was just nothing happening for LAC offensively. The drought forced Doc to bring CP3 and Jordan back into the game before the eight-minute mark of the period with his team down 77-64.
Much-needed consecutive three-balls from Crawford made it 77-70, though, and the Clippers suddenly began to show signs of coming around. Unfortunately, it just seemed like they were unable to get over the hump. The Nuggets, despite having played last night, were showing great energy and rotating exceptionally well defensively. Another couple of triples from Redick and CP3 made it a two-point game at 80-78, but, again, the Nuggets were able to stymie LAC's challenge.
Gary Harris converted what seemed like his 10th clutch three of the night to push the Nugs' cushion to 85-80. The Clippers had a chance to make things interesting down by four with about 30 seconds to go, but a (poorly called) Jeff Green charge gave Emmanuel Mudiay a pair of free throws to ice the game for Denver.
The Clippers attempted a whopping 46 three-pointers in this one, which is three fewer than the NBA record for most 3PAs in a single game. They converted 13 of them, good for a 28% clip. They became the first team in the history of the league to attempt 45 or more threes and score 85 points or less. That sums this game up pretty well.
For whatever reason, the Clippers just didn't have it tonight. Despite finishing with 17 points and 10 assists, Chris Paul was visibly hampered by his ailing calf towards the end of the game. He also took a Danilo Gallinari elbow to his forearm in the second half, but said after the game that he'll be fine. The Clippers were led by 20 apiece from Crawford and Redick, but the rest of the role players failed to show up. Wesley Johnson and Jeff Green combined to score 11 points on just 5-for-21 shooting from the floor.
The Denver run to end the first half was effectively the end of the Clips' chances in this game, which is incredibly disappointing for a team that had been playing extremely well coming in. The Nuggets have plenty of talent, but a team of the Clippers' quality has no business losing to them at this stage of the season. This defeat can be chalked up to effort. Denver was active and played hard. Los Angeles was not and did not.
The Clippers (37-20) will try and rebound from this Friday night against the Kings in Sacramento.