The LA Clippers battled hard, but lost their sixth game in a row, losing a close game to the Denver Nuggets, 111-108. Although the Nuggets are the defending champions, this game was winnable: The Clippers had a seven point lead in the fourth quarter and got solid games from James Harden and Paul George. But, alas, it was all for naught.
The first quarter was just about as even as one will see: the largest lead held by the Clippers was four, while the Nuggets only mustered a three point lead, and there were five ties. Paul George got off to a hot start, putting up 12 points in just eight first-quarter minutes. He was joined by James Harden, who had an efficient nine points through the full quarter. The Nuggets were led by—who else?—Nikola Jokic, who was not efficient but put up 11 points and had four assists.
The Clippers found themselves down eight at the half because of poor shooting (33% from the field in the second quarter). They also let Reggie Jackson go off for 10 points in the quarter, who started in place of the injured Jamal Murray (Reggie was also given a shout-out by Coach Malone). Notably, PJ Tucker again posted a negative plus-minus (-12), highlighting the Clippers’ struggle with size and general performance coming off the bench in the first half.
James Harden answered Reggie’s big quarter with one of his own, putting up 10 points and three assists after the half. Ultimately, the Clippers were able to tie the game by the end of the third quarter, 84-84. The Nuggets got steady contributions from Jokic, Reggie, and Porter but the Clippers were able to hold them to just 24 points as a team.
To start the fourth quarter, Paul George—who had 20 points in the first half—picked up where Harden fell off. PG finished with 35 points, 12 of which were scored in the final frame. The whole quarter was a rock fight, though the Nuggets won this game because the Clippers were too small; partly because Plumlee is hurt and all of the forwards were traded, but also Head Coach Ty Lue decided not to play Zubac to close the game. This decision was roundly criticized by Clippers Nation on Twitter, and the complaints feel justified.
After all, the Clippers were outscored 58-34 in the paint in a game they lost by just three.
Paul George is the Only Good Clipper: Paul George has been the best Clipper this year, including tonight. He had 35 points, 7 rebounds, three assists, and three steals (and only one turnover!). PG still makes confusing decisions, but he has shown that he is physically capable of being a dominant player (he just need to be more consistent cerebrally). Unfortunately, that cannot be definitively said about any other player on this roster. Kawhi had just 15 points (4/15 from the field), two rebounds, and two assists. To be fair, though, he did have five steals, one of which helped the Clippers cut the deficit down to one point late in the game.
Terance Mann Needs to be Featured: Mann did not score tonight, but had six rebounds and five assists in 28 minutes. Nonetheless, even those nice non-scoring stats were not enough to highlight his impact, as Lucas pointed out on Twitter. He is still a hustle player who wins 50/50 balls and creates plays out of nothing (e.g., four offensive rebounds tonight). Going forward, Ty Lue will need to find him more opportunities, including chances to score.