Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari likely envisioned his return to Denver, a city he called home for seven and a half years, turning out much differently.
The Clippers entered Thursday night’s matchup with the first-place Nuggets playing improved basketball on both ends of the floor. With Denver missing starters Will Barton and Gary Harris, who was ruled out about 30 minutes before tip-off with a hamstring injury, as well as a bevy of reserves, the Clippers were in as good of a position as ever to snatch a win at Pepsi Center.
About six minutes into the game, it seemed unlikely Gallinari’s homecoming was going to be very sweet. The Nuggets burst out to a 37-point opening frame and rolled to a 121-100 victory, snapping the Clippers’ modest three-game winning streak.
Gallinari, who was forced to sit out last season’s visits to Denver with recurring injuries, finished with 18 points and four assists, but missed eight of his final 11 shots. Tobias Harris chipped in 18 points and 11 rebounds and Lou Williams had a team-high 19 points.
It was no match for the Nuggets (28-12). Continuing their franchise best start, Denver was paced by 23 points from point guard Jamal Murray and a second-straight triple-double from Nikola Jokic, who had 18 points, 14 boards and 10 assists.
While Denver’s top scorers led the way, it was role players like Torrey Craig, Monte Morris and Malik Beasley who were ultimately responsible for undoing the Clippers (24-17). The trio combined for 43 points, and it seemed like every time the Clippers adjusted to account for one of them the other stepped up. It was Beasley early and Morris later.
Perennial Clippers nuisance Mason Plumlee made matters worse with 17 points and a dozen rebounds off the bench.
For the Clippers, there were moments it seemed as though they would mount a comeback. They reduced a double-figure deficit several times with mini flurries in the early stages of the second and third quarters, but a turnover here or an offensive rebound there ultimately snuffed out any chance of making serious headway.
It will be necessary to regroup quickly. The Clippers begin a four-game homestand Saturday afternoon against the Pistons and face three Western Conference opponents in the games that follow, including the surging Jazz and defending champion Warriors in what is expected to be the season debut for DeMarcus Cousins.
The Clippers committed just three second-half turnovers but trailed by as many as 22 points... They are now 3-4 in their last seven games in Denver and must beat the Nuggets in February in order to pull out a season-series split… Denver outrebounded the Clippers, 53-38…
THEY GOT NEXT
The Clippers return home to take on the Detroit Pistons in Blake Griffin’s first trip to L.A. to face his former team. Griffin’s initial game in L.A. since spending his first 9-plus seasons with the Clippers actually occurred Wednesday when the Pistons lost by double-figures to the Lakers. Griffin sat out Thursday in Sacramento.