After a painful first two and a half quarters, the Clippers rallied out of a 25-point deficit to beat the Denver Nuggets 87-85.
Amir Coffey, who built on his strong performance on Sunday, sunk a clutch three to put the Clippers up by two with 2:30 left. If his position in the rotation was not yet guaranteed, his 18 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and four steals tonight should all but solidify it. And Nicolas Batum, after some aggressive defense to deny Nikola Jokic the ball and force Facundo Campazzo to take a deep three-pointer on the other end, made a three on the next offensive possession to give the Clippers a five-point lead they would not relinquish.
The Clippers, after digging themselves an ample hole, outscored the Nuggets 53-26 to end the game.
Although the offense took a while to get going, the defense was there from the jump. With 8:50 to go in the first, Jokic threw an errant pass straight past Aaron Gordon’s bewildered hands and out of bounds for the Nuggets’ fourth turnover. It was a rare mistake for Jokic over the season, but those types of mistakes seemed to be a staple of the Clippers gameplan tonight, as they forced 20 Nuggets turnovers tonight.
Capitalizing off those turnovers, however, was a different matter entirely. In fact, capitalizing on any of their shots tonight were a struggle for the Clippers., especially for the first three quarters.
After starting out just 5-of-19 over the first ten minutes, the Clippers took advantage of the substitution of Jokic, who orchestrated the Nuggets offense en route to four points, four assists, and five rebounds in the first quarter, to cut the deficit to two. The Clippers trailed the Nuggets 18-16, entering the second quarter.
A combination of active defense and Brandon Boston Jr., who tallied six points and three rebounds in his first six minutes, kept the Clippers within striking distance despite some cold shooting from the four starters not named Coffey.
Throughout the game, the Clippers, despite generating solid shots, struggled with making baskets. Through the first 21 minutes of the game, they were only able to convert 15 out of 41 shots. After the first two quarters, the Clippers, who shot just 27.3 percent from the field and just 7.1 percent from three, trailed 41-28.
The Nuggets, who went on a quick 11-4 run to start the third quarter, were the first to break out of the offensive slump. And despite some increased urgency from the Clippers, the deficit ballooned up to 25 points in the third.
Marcus Morris and Coffey, shooting 5-of-13 and 4-of-8 from the field, respectively, were the only players in double digits for Los Angeles through the majority of the third. Towards the end, they were joined with Terance Mann, who also contributed ten points. Despite some foul trouble, a 18-3 run cut the Nuggets lead to just ten with three minutes to go in the third. Still, the Nuggets defense held the Clippers to just 55 points in the first three quarters, on track for a 73-point game.
The good news? The Clippers defense was also able to hold the Nuggets to just 66 points on 40 percent shooting from the field, including 12 percent shooting from three. That, as well as a quick run in the first 1:12 of the fourth quarter that cut the deficit to just four, sparked some hope for the anxious Clippers fans in the stadium.
A heroic bail-out by Big Government Reggie Jackson tied the game up with seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter. And despite a Gordon cut and dunk that gave the lead back to the Nuggets the very next play, after 41 minutes of play, that shot made one thing official: we had a game on our hands.
Jackson, who shot 1-of-9 through the first three quarters, made four crucial buckets when the Clippers needed him the most. The first of which is mentioned above; the second similarly tied the game; the third of those shots gave the Clippers a one point lead with 5:30 to go in the fourth; the fourth put Jokic on a poster and caused “Reggie” chants to reverberate throughout the stadium.
Jokic, who swung right back with two buckets of his own, added on to his MVP case for the season. He was joined by Gordon, who provided an outlet for Jokic’s almost artistic court vision and contributed 30 points and 12 rebounds, on 68.8 percent shooting.
Ty Lue must be figuring out ways to motivate his team, besides giving themselves large deficits to battle back from. Until he does, however, painful beginnings and insanely fun endings of games, like tonight, are bound to happen.
The Clippers, who seem to thrive on momentum, will look to build on the last couple of games on Thursday against the Pelicans, as they travel to New Orleans.