LOS ANGELES, CA – The Los Angeles Clippers needed only five minutes on Friday night to show the Denver Nuggets how scary they could be at full strength.
The Clippers (40-19) jumped out to a quick 17-4 lead and led by as much as 32 points to beat the Nuggets (40-19) 132-103 to pull into a tie for second place in the Western Conference behind the team the share the Staples Center with, the Los Angeles Lakers (45-12).
Playing with a full roster for only the seventh time this season, the Clippers were determined to make the most of it. With the Nuggets coming in with a bit of confidence after their first matchup (a 114-104 win in December – albeit without Paul George, who was out with hamstring tightness), it was even more important that the Clippers made a strong showing. And from the jump, they imposed their will on Denver.
In the first quarter, the Clippers got contributions all across the board: nine different players scored at least one basket – led by George (nine points) – as the team got out to a 37-27 lead. George had said after the game that their shootaround earlier on Friday gave him all the feeling that this was going to be their day.
“It’s not even about how the game plays,” George said. “It is about how we are prepared. Going into this morning we were sharp, we were prepared, we were locked in. There was no slippage in shootaround and that trickled into the game.”
The second quarter saw a more slowed down affair, as both teams slugged across the floor fighting for points. Each team scored 29 in the quarter; however, it was the Clippers who got the last laugh going into halftime as Marcus Morris Sr. nailed a 17-foot stepback jumper to give his squad a 66-56 lead going into the half.
The second half started off slow, as it took nearly two minutes before the first basket was made. After Kawhi Leonard made the first shot to give the Clippers a 68-56 lead, that’s when the team decided the fun and games were over. The Clippers outscored Denver 32-23 in the third, taking a 98-79 lead into the final frame.
With the exception of a pair of Paul George jumpers, the fourth quarter belonged to the Clippers’ bench. Rodney McGruder and Landry Shamet scored seven points apiece in the quarter, Lou Williams scored nine and even Amir Coffey got in on the scoring action.
The game was already well out of hand by the time McGruder made his last basket at the 1:24 mark to give the Clippers a 129-97 lead, but Shamet then buried a 26-foot three-pointer to put the exclamation point on the beatdown – one that Denver head coach did not mince words about afterwards.
“We were soft tonight from beginning to end,” Mike Malone said post-game. “They didn’t feel us on either end. They got whatever they wanted. We couldn’t run offense because they took us out of our stuff and we just allowed them to do it for 48 minutes. They’re a good team, but I’m just very disappointed in our competitive spirit and our effort.”
Malone also gave credit to the Clippers for their explosive effort.
“They sent a message,” he said before adding, “They came out and hit us in the mouth and we never responded, and that’s the most disappointing thing about it. They approached this game like something was on the line and you can tell a difference from the jump ball all the way to the final buzzer.”
Denver guard Monte Morris (29 pts off the bench) was a little more harsh when talking about their performance Friday.
“I feel like from the start, they let it be known that they were going to be in our s— all night and they definitely did,” Morris said. “They did that tonight. Our offense was stagnant from the start. They weren’t feeling us on defense. I think going forward, these teams we’ve got to beat to be elite. If we talk about championship, we can throw it out the window if we ain’t going to show up in (these) games.”
Nikola Jokic was consistent, scoring 21 points to go along with nine rebounds, but the rest of the starters minus him and Will Barton (18 points, 4-5 3pt) only scored 15 points. Jamal Murray scored 11, but eight of them came in the first half; Gary Harris only scored four points and Paul Millsap was held scoreless in 21 minutes of action. For the Nuggets, this was their eighth loss by double-digits this season and the fifth to a top-8 conference team.
The Clippers had seven players score in double-figures: George (24), Leonard (19), Montrezl Harrell (18), Lou Williams (17), Landry Shamet (12), with Reggie Williams and Ivica Zubac scoring 10 apiece. For the Clippers, this was their third straight win after losing three straight prior. When the team has its full roster, the team has been undefeated (7-0).
Both teams will be home for a pair of Sunday games, as the Nuggets host the Toronto Raptors and the Clippers host the Philadelphia 76ers.