The Clippers had a few ups and downs, but mostly rolled on both ends of the court to beat the Nuggets on Christmas 121-108.
The first quarter started with both teams looking a little sluggish. Turnovers and bad fouls were the only team getting either team buckets, with very little successful action in the halfcourt. After a particularly bad turnover, Ty Lue took a timeout, and the Clippers came out rejuvenated. Early Pat Beverley foul trouble led to Lou Williams minutes, but Lou’s scoring and passing juiced up the offense, and the Clippers began to zip the ball around the court. Continued drives, penetration, and crosscourt passing resulted in a number of wide-open threes, and the Clippers nailed them. The only thing preventing the lead from growing to double digits were the continued turnovers and an incredible 11 fouls.
The second quarter proceeded much the same way. Even the insertion of Reggie Jackson for Terance Mann (why Ty, why?) couldn’t slow the Clippers’ roll (though Jackson did have a couple trademark bad shots and questionable decisions). The ball movement continued to percolate, with the Clippers whipping the ball around the court and leveraging the scoring threats of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to create opportunities for others. They also forced the Nuggets into turnovers, resulting in more open threes. Combine that with offensive rebounding and strong interior play by Zubac and the Clippers lead hit 20 before a Jokic three brought it back down to 17.
The third quarter matched the second almost beat for beat. The Clippers continued to play well offensively and compete on defense, but were unable to pull ahead in large part due to their foul troubles. Ibaka and Beverley swiftly picked up their 4th fouls, meaning the bench came in early. As the quarter dragged along, the ball movement slowed down a bit, but was picked back up after a timeout with two easy baskets. The Nuggets, meanwhile, looked a lot sharper, but their inability to hit open threes kept them from cutting into the lead. The Nuggets stayed attached through, and the Clippers lead of 19 felt like it could break at any moment.
Well, the Nuggets started off the 4th quarter with a 6-0 run, and the Clippers lead sat at a mere 13 with 11 minutes to go. Kawhi was brought back in, and a couple midrange jumpers stemmed the bleeding. The Clippers as a whole continued to look disorganized and sloppy, with Reggie Jackson playing a “starring” role in the dysfunction on both ends. The Nuggets began doubling Leonard, and forcing the ball out of his hands, which resulted in bad shots and turnovers. On the other end, Jamal Murray caugt fire, trimming the Clippers lead to single digits. Then, at the 6 minute mark, Kawhi horrifyingly went down in a pool of blood from his mouth – the unfortunate aftermath of an inadvertent elbow from teammate Ibaka. Rather than fold, the Clippers continued to run their offense, with George-Ibaka pick and pops facilitating two buried threes. Every time Denver pushed, the Clippers answered, and were ultimately able to hold on to beat the Nuggets 121-108 to give Clippers fans a merry Christmas.
Ball Movement Dazzles – The Clippers finished the game with 32 assists on 41 made baskets, an excellent percentage and a contrast to the frequently ISO-driven offense of the 2020 team. The Clippers seem to just be running more offensive sets, especially out of timeouts, and the ball is moving around the court a lot more. Even in possessions that feature a Kawhi Leonard or Paul George isolation, there’s much more off-ball movement to create confusion and generate open looks for other players. The offense is zipping, and should only improve as the players get more reps and build chemistry. Their new offense is also a hell of a lot more fun to watch, too.
Nicolas Batum Shines – What a game from Nicolas Swatum. The veteran Frenchman had 13 points on 5-8 shooting, snagged 10 boards, dished 4 assists, and made some big defensive plays. It’s a cliché, but it applies to Batum: he’s always in the right place at the right time. His defense has been solid on both wings and bigger forwards, and he’s nailed open threes. The Clippers can’t have asked any more from him, and he’s probably been their 3rd best player (or maybe 4th just behind Serge Ibaka) through two games. It’s a small sample size, but Batum looks like he will be a very helpful presence on the team this year as a glue guy who can be trusted in multiple roles.
Pat Beverley Fouling – One negative that has carried over from last season is Pat Beverley’s fouling tendencies. He played only 22 minutes in this one, in large part because of his 5 fouls, and missed huge chunks of the first three quarters. He’s a very important player for the Clippers, and they need him on the court. While some fouls happen in the course of a game, Beverley continues to make silly plays with very low chance of success and a high risk of fouling. For his 4th foul, he double teamed Nikola Jokic on a 20 foot fadeaway jumper from the corner with 0.7 seconds left when Zu had a hand up. Completely unnecessary and foolish for a player as experienced as Beverley. These fouls need to stop.
Kawhi Seems Ok – Despite the horrific amount of bleeding that Kawhi suffered from his mouth, all seems well. He had eights stitches in the locker room for a laceration, but the Clippers seemed unconcerned about the injury after the game, and no more severe injury (broken jaw) has been reported. It’s possible he misses the Dallas game on Sunday, but a long-term injury appears to have been avoided.
Paul George Playmaking a Mixed Bag – As it frequently is, Paul George’s playmaking had mixed results. On one hand, he had nine assists, including some truly brilliant and clutch finds to players down the stretch of the game. On the other, he had six turnovers, with a few of them being completely unforced. George has good basketball instincts and tries to make the right play most of the time, but simply doesn’t have the next level passing abilities that top-tier playmakers do that enable them to stay a step ahead of the defense. He can leverage his scoring to create open looks for others, but asking him to shoulder the reins of the offense for long periods is probably going to come with some frustrations.
Well, that’s about it for this one. Happy Holidays everyone, and enjoy the fact that the Clippers have now beat the Lakers and Nuggets to start this 2021 season, and looked good doing it!