It’s safe to say that this year’s holiday season was not so nice for the NBA at large, as a spike in COVID cases impacted teams across the league. Not only are the Clippers one of those teams (both Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris are in the protocols), but the already-difficult situation has been compounded by news of Paul George’s elbow injury. Unfortunately, the absence of much of the Clippers’ offensive firepower meant the team didn’t have enough to overcome the Nuggets, losing 103-100 with a chance to tie on the last possession.
At the start of the game, it seemed as if Nikola Jokic’s star presence was blunted by Ivica Zubac. Zubac held his own on defense and demonstrated his touch with a couple hook shots in the key, but the all-around team effort from the Nuggets made sure to keep it competitive. In fact, every player on their team who saw first half minutes contributed points to the scoreboard.
That continued throughout the second quarter, largely because the Clippers offense stagnated without a consistent option. The deficit dipped in and out of the double digits, but the Nuggets were not able to fully control of the game largely because the bench stepped up. Serge Ibaka proved to be a valuable backup to Zubac; he chipped in seven first-half points, but the story of the first half was Brandon Boston. He scored 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and while his plus-minus stat was not pretty, he brought an energy to the team that impacted the game in ways outside of the box score.
For the majority of the third quarter, the Clippers remained in a double-digit deficit, with Jokic being the main culprit. He hounded the offensive boards and exposed mismatches, but as the third quarter progressed, the Clippers began to claw their way back. Zubac, supported by a set of active teammates on defense, made important stops in multiple one-on-one post matchups with Jokic. After a couple critical 3-pointers from Ibaka and Bledsoe, the score was tied. An Amir Coffey layup took the lead, and a pair of free throws from Keon Johnson capped a 26-5 run to end the quarter.
The Clippers entered the fourth quarter with a four-point lead, but they were not able to hold onto it. Jokic cleaned up and finished with 26 points and 22 rebounds, ultimately winning the battle down low against Zubac. Though a loss is disheartening, especially after their win against the Kings, the fact that they fought so valiantly (and so effectively) without several of their most important players shows the depth of the Clippers. Now, the Clippers will have to complete their back-to-back at home against James Harden and the Nets.