From the moment the Clippers tipped off against Memphis Monday night, they have been locked in defensively. Victories against the Grizzlies and the Suns may have been written off given that both teams are under .500 and riddled with injuries, but the Nuggets presented an opportunity for a statement win. LA took full advantage.
The Clippers took control of the game from the jump, hitting their first four shots and six of their first eight to take a 14-4 lead into the first timeout. Denver never got closer than six points en route to a 132-103 victory for the home team.
LA set the tone on the defensive end to start the night. They stayed home on the perimeter players, allowing Ivica Zubac to cover Nikola Jokic one-on-one. Jokic scored 10 points in the first quarter, but he was unable to impact the game as a facilitator. When Jokic tried to kick out to his teammates, those passes found the long arms of the active Clippers defenders. Non-Jokic Nuggets didn’t score until Jamal Murray hit a floater with 6:23 in the period.
Meanwhile, the offense came easy for LA. Denver starts a relatively small wing rotation in Gary Harris and Will Barton, and the pair was overmatched against Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. George hit three 3-pointers in the opening frame while Leonard added seven points and two assists. The ball kept finding the open player.
The Nuggets had a little more success when Jerami Grant entered the game. A long and athletic wing, Grant was able to score in isolation even against the Clippers perimeter defense, and he provided a modicum of resistance on the other end. Grant led Denver in minutes in the first half, chipping in 14 points to pair with Jokic’s 15, but he returned to the bench to start the third quarter.
The Clippers’ starting lineup, meanwhile, went on another run out of halftime. The Nuggets briefly cut the lead to 7, but LA immediately increased the pressure on the defensive end, forcing four turnovers on five possessions to go back up by 18. The highlight of the run was a dynamic dunk by George in transition.
Seemingly everything was working for the Clippers. Seven players scored in double-digits, led by George’s 24. Through the first three quarters, effectively the competitive portion of the game, LA had 26 assists on 35 made field goals. The Nuggets only had 15 assists, and the Clippers forced 12 turnovers for 21 points.
The Clippers simply had more energy throughout. They got to every 50/50 ball, they made the right rotations in the passing lanes, and their defense stifled the Nuggets before they ever had a chance to get comfortable.
It was a performance befitting of LA’s talent level, the kind of output that should come more frequently now that the team has its full complement of players available.