A lot of numbers in this game come out looking like a Clippers’ loss.
As a team, they had 20 turnovers. They allowed 20 offensive rebounds to the Denver Nuggets. They missed 12 free throws—including seven in the fourth quarter, four in the last minute, and three in the final 15 seconds when they were nursing a narrow lead.
It didn’t help that in the closing moments, with a four-point lead, Milos Teodosic mistakenly committed an intentional foul, believing the Clippers had a foul to give. They did not, and Will Barton got two free points to make it a one-possession game.
Somehow, however, the Clippers won. The Nuggets had 19 turnovers of their own, and let the Clippers come up with 17 offensive boards. And Denver shot just 5-25 from deep, including a frigid 1-8 for star center Nikola Jokic. Gary Harris played well and finished with 19 points, 4 assists, and 4 steals, but he only got 13 shot attempts, while a lot of Denver possessions ended in the less efficient hands of Jokic, Barton, Plumlee, Lyles and Mudiay.
For the Clippers, Lou Williams had his worst game in a while, scoring just 17 points on 6-18 shooting. He had scored 20 or more points in the Clippers’ prior 13 games, including eight game of 30 or more (which in turn includes a 40-point game and a 50-point game). Without a big contribution from Lou, the Clippers turned to a more balanced offensive attack. Milos Teodosic had a career-best 15 points, while also contributing 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals. Blake Griffin had 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists, although he shot 9-19 from the field, had five turnovers, and missed two crucial free throws in the closing seconds. Montrezl Harrell had a big contribution off of the bench with 18 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks, while Wesley Johnson had a shaky-but-crucial 15-point, 6-rebound, 3-assist performance.
It was mediocre. But in the game that had the largest seeding implications of any game thus far in the Clippers’ season, mediocre was enough. Maybe it was fitting, in a way: both of these teams have fluttered around .500 and entered the night in 8th and 9th place in the Western Conference. It doesn’t exactly get much more mediocre than that.
The Clippers, though, can feel a little better about this game going forward than the Nuggets can. Denver is now 23-22, but they’re 4-6 in their last 10 and find themselves in 9th place, a loss behind the LAC/Portland Trail Blazers/New Orleans Pelicans cluster. Just a half-game ahead, the Clippers sit tied with Portland and New Orleans at 23-21, though their 6-game winning streak is the longest active streak in the NBA, and their 8-2 record in the last 10 games outpaces their peers by a wide margin.
Now, L.A. has two days off for the first time since December 27th and 28th. After that, they close the month with a 6-game, 11-day stretch that includes match-ups against Utah (10th in the West), Minnesota (4th), New Orleans (T-6th), and Portland (T-6th). We’ll know a lot more about where the Clippers stand in the Western Conference at the end of that stretch.