This game was a sloppy, disjointed affair throughout, not helped by some baffling turns from the refereeing crew. The Clippers’ offense began the game looking a bit out of sorts, and outside of some brief stretches, remained that way throughout. The only Clippers’ starter who really seemed to be getting anything going was Tobias Harris, as Avery Bradley and Pat Beverley in particular looked off on that end. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lou Williams’ entrances to the game were therefore of note, as the Clippers’ offense picked up some steam. The Clippers’ defense, however, remained poor: the Clippers committed 9 fouls in the opening period, and Gallo, Bev, and Gortat had two apiece. The original bench lineup was Shai-Lou-Luc Mbah a Moute-Mike Scott-Montrezl Harrell, but it didn’t look good on either end.
Boban entered the game early in the 2nd quarter to rousing cheers after Harrell picked up his second foul, and immediately got an and-one. However, a hideous stretch followed, with rushed shots, poor transition defense, and turnovers, and the Nuggets went up by 11. The starters began to trickle back in, and the Clippers cut into the lead. Bradley finally began to get going, scoring all eight of his points in the period, including a thunderous tip-dunk. Shai and Tobias also played well, and the Clippers were able to match the Nuggets in the quarter.
The third quarter was the ugliest of the entire game. Both teams picked up their defensive intensity, but also matched that with shoddy offensive execution and horrible shot-making, throwing up tons of bricks. There was a complete lack of rhythm, and the Clippers were able to use the ugly play to very slowly close the gap. Doc started to experiment a bit with his lineups, going small for the first time with three guards, and then going big with Harrell and Boban together. A burst from Lou Williams helped the Clippers close the Nuggets’ lead to just one entering the final quarter.
For much of the 4th quarter, Doc went with a mixed starters-bench lineup of Shai-Lou-Tobias-Gallo-Boban. This unit looked solid (if not great) defensively, and was strong offensively, mostly due to Boban. Credit to Shai and Lou, who were able to get the ball to Bobi in his spots, but the Nuggets were just helpless to stop him—all the momentum seemed to be going the Clippers’ way. However, the Nuggets were able to get free a couple times once their starters came back in, and Doc responded by putting Bradley and Beverley in for Shai and Lou. The Clippers had a 92-84 lead, but then completely fell apart, letting the Nuggets go on an incredible 19-3 run to essentially seal the game. They couldn’t score, couldn’t get stops, and just looked entirely out of sorts. Of particular note, they did not get the ball enough to Tobias Harris, who did not attempt a shot in the 4th quarter. Down by eight, the game essentially became a hacking fest, and the Clippers couldn’t make up the difference, even with the re-insertion of Lou. The Clippers ultimately whimpered to the finish, losing 107-98.
- Dominant Boban: I didn’t mention Boban in my game preview, thinking he would only get situational or garbage minutes tonight, despite his previous strong showings against the Nuggets. How wrong I was. Boban played 18 minutes, and absolutely stood out, scoring 18 points on 6-8 shooting (6-6 from the line) and pulling in 8 rebounds. His defense was imperfect due to his slow foot speed, but he had several blocks and deterred shots around the rim, and the Nuggets didn’t really take advantage of him on that end all that much. On a night where the other Clippers’ centers were invisible (Gortat), or smothered (Harrell), Boban was unstoppable. I think he’s still more of a situational usage type of player, but tonight was a point for those who think he should get regular rotation minutes.
- Shai looks great: In his first real NBA game, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander looked like a veteran, playing as calmly and smoothly as always. He got to the basket, hit a couple midrange jumpers, and made some brilliant passes (that were unfortunately mostly wasted on missed shots). He finished with 11 points, 2 rebounds, and 4 assists on 5-6 shooting, and honestly should have been more aggressive at times. He did have a couple turnovers and missed rotations on defense, but he was one of the Clippers’ better players tonight, and his 28 minutes played (tied for 3rd on the team) show that Doc thought so too. He gets wherever he wants on the court, finishes around the basket, and is probably the best passer on the team. It’s not a question of if he should start, but when.
- Starters struggle: The Clippers’ starters did not look good tonight, especially offensively. They combined for a mere 49 points on 37% shooting from the field and 30% from three, and just were not able to generate easy looks against a Denver defense that was pretty bad last season. The Pat Beverly-Avery Bradley combination was rough: they just couldn’t find the range on their shots or consistently create for teammates. This led to a lot of Danilo Gallinari isolation basketball, which also didn’t turn out too well. The 3rd quarter was a strong period for them defensively, and there were flashes of the vaunted “Clamp City” in action. But tonight, the starters didn’t start well, and their poor play down the stretch handed the Nuggets the game. Beverley, Bradley, and Gallinari will shoot better in future contests, and their defense should tighten up as they get adjusted to each other. Still, this was not a great first showing.
- Luc and Scott disappoint: The Clippers’ backup forwards were so bad that Doc didn’t bother playing them in the 2nd half. Mike Scott was 0-1 with no other stats in his four minutes on the court, playing bad defense to boot. Luc was active defensively, showing why he was a key player for the Rockets’ superb defense last season, yet was a trainwreck on the other end. Luc went 0-5 in his nine minutes, with all of his misses being relatively easy looks, and just generally looked like a zero offensively. While his defense is good enough to get him minutes, the Clippers need him to at least hit open threes and layups, and he could not do so tonight. I think Doc gives the two vets a few games to sort themselves out, but Ty Wallace and Sindarius Thornwell are waiting in the wings if they continue to struggle.
- Fouls and offensive rebounds: The Clippers gave up 14 offensive rebounds to the Nuggets tonight, but it felt like more. Every time they got a crucial stop, it seemed like the Nuggets would reclaim their own miss and get another chance at scoring. The loss of DeAndre Jordan and his automatic 10+ rebounds a game was felt strongly in this regard. Another area of emphasis for the Clippers’ coaching staff, outside of boxing out, should be on avoiding fouling. The Clippers were unable to stop themselves from hacking the Nuggets, and early foul trouble both gave the Nuggets free throws and disrupted the Clippers’ rhythm. When you put the opposing team on the line all the time and let them have second chances, it’s tough to win.
The Clippers’ next game is Friday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who will be missing superstar point guard Russell Westbrook. The Clippers need to refocus after this tough loss and make sure they win that game, because every loss against a Western Conference opponent is going to be difficult to make up later on.
Overall, there were some positives from this game. Shai looked great, Tobias Harris played pretty well, and everyone was healthy. But still, this was a disappointing loss.