There are only so many times you can throw around words like “uninspired” and “tired” when describing a basketball team, but man, the Clippers have pushed at those boundaries.
Sure, the Clippers didn’t have DeAndre Jordan or Blake Griffin today, and on the surface they didn’t play terribly on offense, but the Denver Nuggets got absolutely anything they wanted all night. Part of the fact is that they played two very solid passing big men together and got a lot of easy looks either from outside (15-28 from three) or inside (58 points in the paint!) The Clippers actually had 16 threes of their own, but essentially lost this game in the paint (58-36) and at the line (22 made FTs from Denver to 10 from the Clippers) The Nuggets were the easy aggressors and played their sort of game, and as a result this was an easy 129-114 home win. The Clippers are now playing under .500 basketball since their 14-2 start to the season. They are a half game up on the Thunder for the 5th spot out West, and tied in the loss column.
Chris Paul and J.J. Redick both looked crisp all game shooting the ball, combining for a scorching 16-22 from the field with 6-9 from three. The Clippers also got a nice effort on offense from Austin Rivers, scoring 17 on 7-12 shooting. But the team just didn’t have the defensive awareness today, and Paul was hampered by foul problems all night that took smaller leads and made them much bigger. The Clippers were playing catchup immediately, falling behind by a score of 27-19 at the end of one and pretty much being comfortably behind by double figures the rest of the night. Paul picked up his 4th foul with the team down 73-62 in the 3rd and that was essentially all she wrote. Paul had a -1 +/- for the game in a 15 point loss. The loss is about as ho hum as you’d imagine for a team playing their 3rd game in 4 nights against a young, rested Nuggets squad, which is what made that Bucks loss all the more disheartening. This one was never really in question.
-The backcourt did do some solid things, with Paul scoring 18 points with 14 assists to just 2 turnovers, a big improvement off a nightmare game against the Bucks. Redick particularly looked sharp, shooting 8-10 in what was his best shooting clip of the season. Redick needed a game like this, too bad the defense didn’t make the game overall too memorable.
-Marreese Speights got in foul problems in this game, depleting the Clippers of another big body they could have used. Speights only played 15 minutes and I was actually curious to seeing him play some considering the Nuggets bigs aren’t exactly the fastest. Still, in a game needing more defense, the Clippers played Luc Mbah a Moute at center at times tonight with some success against Nikola Jokic in the 2nd quarter. Unfortunately the Nuggets made a couple of quick buckets to close the half to keep the Clippers off their heels.
-Mo’s foul problems opened minutes for the hilarious Paul Pierce tonight. Mike Smith actually made a comment when Pierce entered the game about what a chance it was for unsuspecting fans to see Pierce play one last time. Pierce promptly missed 2 jumpers and saved a ball from going out of bounds right to a Nuggets player under their own basket. This was in less than 2 minutes I believe. Pierce later hit 2 shots and hopefully he doesn’t play the rest of the season. Brandon Bass, a preferable PF, held himself decently with 15 points on 6-8 shooting, with shots of the normal Bass variety.
-Raymond Felton and Wesley Johnson had +/-s of -21 and -26 respectively. Felton played 15 minutes and Johnson played 14.
-Jokic is just incredible. It’s really something watching him play, it’s almost as if he sees the game in slow motion, which is fitting because he moves in slow motion a lot of the time. He makes some pinpoint passes for a big and he never seems rushed. If Griffin is the best passing big in the league, Jokic is probably a close second. His 17/11/14 triple double came in the third quarter and was effortless. Also, considering Jokic/Nurkic didn’t work, I like a player like Mason Plumlee taking the court either with or when Jokic is resting. (Mostly when he’s resting to replicate Jokic’s passing) Sort of a poor version of Jokic that Clipper fans are surely familiar with after last postseason. Kenneth Faried, noted Clipper killer, had a decent game tonight as well with 12 points in 18 minutes.
-The Clippers were also greatly hurt by the fact that Emmanuel Mudiay didn’t play today. So as much as the Nuggets missed shooters like Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, the efficiency of their shooting bumped a bit by taking away those Mudiay shots and giving them to their guards that played tonight, lead by Will the Thrill Barton hitting an absurd 7-10 from three, many of them at critical times. Gary Harris and Jameer Nelson also played very solid, heady games. As always, it’s nice to see Nelson play his steady basketball.
It’s hard to judge this game too much considering the schedule and the Clippers personnel, but it was still a bit of a stinker. This team is still figuring out their footing and now are coming up on the stretch run to close the season without looking like the same team that started the year for a very long time, despite some flashes of quality play. The Clippers could desperately use a couple days off, but at least Jordan and Griffin will be fresh for a big matchup against the Cavaliers on Saturday. The Cavs just got Kevin Love back and are healthy again. They also might be excited for this matchup after the Clippers blew them out in Cleveland early in the season.