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Clippers Win Hard Fought Game Over Nuggets, 109-103

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The Clippers move to 4-0 in the preseason behind a balanced bench attack and a strong defensive second half

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Game Summary:

Another day, another preseason victory for the Clippers. While these matchups mean precious little to actual regular season success, it’s promising to see a victory without star player Tobias Harris and starting center Marcin Gortat in the lineup. Moving to 4-0, the Clippers came out with their most interesting starting lineup of the preseason. With Harris and Gortat out, Boban Marjanovic got the nod alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Boban didn’t disappoint, giving the Clips six points, six rebounds and a block in only eight minutes. He also effected the game defensively, making life hard for Nuggets star Nikola Jokic inside and out, only allowing him to score four points in the first half. The first quarter also featured more of the same this preseason from Danilo Gallinari as he dropped a quick nine points, including a nice mid-range and-one. A surprising breakout first quarter performance that was nice to see was Avery Bradley, who went 2-of-3 from three for eight first quarter points. After a solid early effort, the Clippers led 30-26 after the first quarter.

The second frame was a true NBA preseason quarter as the two teams combined for 69 points total, in what could be described as “freewheeling.” Denver was able to get out in transition and score a lot of easy baskets as the Clippers were settling for mid and long range jumpers and the Nuggets were grabbing long rebounds and running. It didn’t help that the Nuggets caught fire from three in the quarter, making four. Despite losing the quarter 38-31, the Clippers had some positives in Jerome Robinson getting a quick eight points, including going 2-of-3 from three. Sweet Lou did his thing with 11 points, three assists and two rebounds in the quarter, and Mike Scott finally hit some shots going for seven points in the first half. However, the Clips saw themselves down 64-61 going into the locker room.

The third quarter was a sluggish period as a whole as the Clips only put up 19 points. Boban continued to dominate inside scoring eight points in the third and Gallo hit some shots. The bench unit struggled to score and find their footing offensively. However the Clippers defense clamped down, only allowing 16 total points to Denver. The beginning of the fourth quarter however, was a different story. It was the Trez show. Harrell showed why the Clippers valued him so highly this offseason, as he had nine points and three blocks in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter and was straight up out-hustling the competition. Third unit members finished the last six minutes of the game with Wes Johnson impressing with seven points. Johnathan Motley provided energy and an inside presence, scoring six points on 3-of-3 shooting and grabbing four boards to seal the victory.

Notes:

  • Early foul trouble for Harrell continues: While Trez managed to only get clipped for a foul once in the second half, he racked up four quick ones in the first two quarters. This has been a trend in the preseason, as he has tallied 15 fouls over the first four games. Harrell is an interesting player, as he is only 6’8” but plays more of a traditional five. He struggles defensively inside with other teams’ bigs as the size differential comes into play. If he can reign in the fouls come the regular season, while maintaining his defensive energy, the sky is the limit for Harrell in 2018-19.
  • Avery Bradley - “Me and Patrick Beverley will be the best defensive backcourt in the NBA”: In an interview from the Clippers training camp in Hawaii, aired tonight, Bradley was quoted as saying that he and Bev will be the best defensive backcourt in the NBA. This is a bold claim from the second-year Clipper, but he isn’t wrong. Both players are known for tenacious perimeter defense and the ability to get under the skin of the opposition. Beverley is one of the best on-ball guard defenders in the league and Bradley causes havoc in driving and passing lanes with his 6’7” wingspan. If this “Clamp City” trend continues, opponents of the Clippers will be having fits night-in, night-out.
  • Boban likes (Denver) Nuggets: Boban continues to have his way with the Nuggets in the paint. If you remember last season, Boban was the catalyst behind a February come-from-behind win in Denver, where he had 18 points in the second half. Tonight was more of the same as, Bobi went for 14 points and 12 rebounds in only 15 minutes. He also showed better defensive versatility, as he was able to get out on shooters easier than he did last year and defend out to the mid-range. He is showing better stamina and quickness and, if continued, could become a valuable third unit rotation piece for L.A.
  • Jerome and Scott finally show some life: We finally got to see some solid shooting from these two. Scott finished 3-of-6 (1-of-2 from three) with seven points and Jerome shot 3-of-8 from three, finishing with 12 total points. A sign of life from these two shooting-wise is very welcome for Clipper fans as their scoring will be needed in deep bench rotations this season.
  • Milos struggles in return: It’s no secret that Milos Teodosic might be on the roster bubble with the Clippers. He has been injury-prone throughout his tenure with the Clippers, and inconsistent to boot. While his passing is amazing, he provides nothing defensively and tends to miss more than he makes shooting wise. Tonight was a sign that maybe he isn’t 100% healthy. Teo went 0-of-4 from the field, contributing only one assist and turning the ball over once. He looked slow on defense as well, and just didn’t provide much overall. With his name in trade talks and roster cuts needing to be made, this was a performance that doesn’t look great with one preseason game to go.
  • Second half defense was stout: After a free-for-all first half defensively, the Clippers tightened up, only allowing 39 points in the second half. The Nuggets also shot under 25% for the half and turned the ball over 12 times total.
  • Roster spots (maybe) gain more clarity: Yes, six minutes of the fourth quarter of a meaningless preseason game shouldn’t have much (if any) bearing on the livelihoods of players. However, the last half of the fourth quarter showed that some players might have an edge over others. Wes shot the ball well and provided good defensive energy, playing like his roster spot depended on it. Juwun Evans went 2-for-2 shooting and ran the offense effectively and comfortably, even showing a little swag carving up the Nuggets second/third unit defense. Motley was fantastic in this limited time as well. On the flip side, Thornwell looked out of it, badly missing two shots and a free throw while being nonexistent in other facets of the offense. This performance does not bode well for someone who is on the roster bubble. Before the game, Milos and Thornwell were the two players I thought wouldn’t be cut, given hype and money, but two bad showings could have some sway on Doc and the front office.

It’s always great to see a victory no matter the circumstances from the Clips. While the starters played fine, their play wasn’t anything to rave about. I would like to see Shai be more aggressive when finishing inside and Beverley obtain a more consistent jumpshot, but with one more preseason game left against Maccabi Haifa, improvements can be made going into the regular season. It was definitely promising to see some struggling bench players play well tonight and for the defense to play as well as they did in the second half. Go Clips!