Fresh off the exciting news about Blake Griffin (more on that later), the Clippers started off the game exceptionally well, forcing Mike Malone to take a timeout in under two minutes by scoring the first nine points. The Nuggets played better after that, but the Clippers maintained a steady lead through the first part of the opening quarter. DeAndre Jordan was everywhere on the court: he put in a couple missed shots, absolutely smothered a Mudiay floater attempt, and just generally caused havoc. Things started changing when the reserves began to check in. DJ Augustin made his presence felt by nailing a couple three pointers and Gary Harris quickly followed suit. The lead dwindled to five at the end of the first. The second quarter went much the same way as the Clippers' bench failed to play cohesively on either end. Augustin continued to score, but nobody else on the Nuggets was really able to get going, allowing the Clippers to keep a small lead. Even the re-insertion of the starters didn't really help matters, mostly due to an abundance of turnovers. The Clippers therefore led 52-48 at halftime, and probably felt fortunate to do so.
The third quarter was DJ's quarter, though. He turned on the intensity from the 1st quarter and then upped it, swatting away four shots in the period and grabbing handfuls of rebounds. He and Chris Paul connected on one of their infamous lobs, which was ferocious as always. The rest of the team contributed as well, mostly by hitting the occasional shot and stepping up on defense. The result was an absolute defensive shut down (though the Nuggets missed several open looks): Denver only scored 12 points in the 3rd quarter. The Clippers were able to score enough to push their lead to 18. The 4th quarter saw much better bench play than the 2nd quarter, and the starters never saw the floor again. While the lead shrunk to the low teens a couple times, it never went into single figures, and the game was in control the whole way. Austin defended Augustin well, Wes hit several threes, Pablo and Jeff did the little things, and Cole defended the paint. The Clips did not falter, and the final score saw them win 105-90.
Blake Griffin is Activated: Obviously Blake didn't play this afternoon: even though he is healthy now, he still has to serve the team's four game suspension for the Matias Testi incident. This does mean he can participate in practice and get into better game shape, though he will still be very rusty when he does return. The date for the much-awaited arrival of Blake will be a week from today against the Washington Wizards. This will give him seven games of play before the playoffs start. While not great, that is still a lot better than a few days ago, when his status for the start of the postseason was starting to become unclear. The Clippers need him badly and now only have three more games left without Blake.
DJ has Himself a Game: DJ put up a line of 16/16 with 6 blocks, statistics which he had never achieved in one game before. He chipped in two assists and two steals as well. All this was accomplished via his trademark efficiency--shooting 7-10 from the field and 2-4 from the line--and in just 29 minutes. The only blemishes were his five turnovers and a somewhat poor defensive stretch in the 2nd quarter. The rest of the game was simply dominated by DeAndre. The Nuggets couldn't get any good looks in the paint and began to pass off rather than get swatted. Simply put, he was the best player in the game today, and it was a much needed performance.
Chris Paul and JJ Redick have Off Games: The Clippers' starting backcourt combined for only 26 points on 8-23 shooting from the field and 4-11 from deep, but it didn't matter. Both made shots when it counted, and Paul put up great peripheral stats as always. It is rare that the Clippers win when both CP and JJ are off, but DJ's play allowed their bad days to slide.
Nuggets' Rookies Disappoint: Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic will be on one of the two All-NBA Rookie teams at the end of the season, but neither looked good at all today. Mudiay shot 2-15 and Jokic 2-7 in 44 total uninspiring minutes. DeAndre seemed to intentionally have it out for the rooks, especially Mudiay, as he just destroyed him on several drives. Mudiay started launching three pointers instead, which is not his forte (he was 0-5 from deep). They are promising young players, but the veterans got the better of them this time.
Other Young Nuggets Impress: While Mudiay and Jokic struggled, Jusuf Nurkic and Joffrey Lauvergne played quite well. Both were active on the glass and showed nice touch on jumpers as well as soft hands around the rim. Nurkic actually had a new career high with 19 points, and just bullied most of the Clippers who stood against him. Part of the reason they may have looked better is because they only played a few minutes against DJ, who probably would have put them in their place.
Upcoming Schedule: This game was the first of a four in five stretch for the Clips, who will take on a much tougher Boston Celtics squad tomorrow in Los Angeles. They then move on to Minnesota on Wednesday for another look at presumptive Rookie of the Year Karl Anthony Towns before a showdown in Oklahoma City on Thursday night. Blake Griffin will finally make his anticipated return on Sunday at home against the Wizards. None of these games promise to be easy, and Doc might well rest some of his players either tomorrow or Wednesday. After the Wizards comes what should be an easy two wins against the Lakers in a "home and home". And after that.....there will only be four regular season games left. Playoff basketball is coming folks, and let's hope the Clippers start rolling on the way in. Go Clips!