This last regular season match-up between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Denver Nuggets had all the makings of a memorable game for many reasons—both teams were trying to end a mini losing streak, both saw their respective coaches bench the starters for the entire second half of their previous losing efforts, the potential Morris/Jokic fireworks, and multiple former Clippers players now in Nuggets uniforms. Not to mention both teams jockeying for position in the relatively few games left in the regular season, with the Clippers wanting to solidify the 8 seed for the potential one game win into the playoffs in the play-in round, and the Nuggets trying to hang on to the 6 seed to avoid the play-in all together, forcing the Minnesota Timberwolves into the 7 seed and a play-in matchup against the Clippers.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, their losing streak continued for one more night against this dramatic backdrop, with the Nuggets putting the game out of reach in the final minute, beating the Clippers by a score of 127-115.
Denver pulled out to a ten point lead at the end of the first quarter, largely behind the shooting of their MVP Nikola Jokic who went off for 12 points in the first frame. The Clippers played much of the first quarter without Reggie Jackson due to early foul trouble, and a good portion of the first half without either Ivica Zubac or Isiah Hartenstein due to fouls as well. Notwithstanding, due to a solid bench effort that extended throughout the game, the Clippers pulled to within three points in the second quarter; however that run was quickly squelched by a four point Nuggets play which threw the momentum back to Denver. The first half ended with Terance Mann and Marcus Morris leading the Clippers scoring.
The Clippers held their own in the third quarter, basically matching Denver’s scoring. They struggled at times to take advantage of the minutes that Jokic was off the floor, and had no consistent answer for either his offense or defense when he was on the court. But the Clippers bench fought this battle to the end behind the stellar performances of both Mann and Isaiah Hartenstein, a former Nugget himself. Mann was pure fire, seemingly everywhere on both offense and defense, drawing important fouls from Jokic late in the game, and finishing the night with 24 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists, shooting 7 for 10 from the field and 10 of 12 from the stripe. Hartenstein was a standout as well, with 5 of 7 from the field and 4 for 4 from the free throw line.
With four minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Clippers got fans’ hearts racing as they made it a two point game after trailing by as many as 14. A handful of Denver three points baskets very late in the fourth finally put the game out of reach for the Clippers with a minute remaining. Denver was led by Jokic as well as solid scoring from 21-year old Bones Hyland, who scored 16 points and was 6 for 8 from the field.
The Clippers look to get back in the win column on Friday, March 25, when they host their former coach Doc Rivers, and former Clippers favorites Deandre Jordan and Tobias Harris, along with James Harden, Joel Embid and the Eastern Conference third seed Philadelphia 76ers. In the previous match-up between these two teams, the Clippers rallied from a 24 point second half deficit to get the win in Philadelphia.