The Denver Nuggets rode a 36-26 third quarter to crush the visiting Clippers in a high stakes Western Conference battle between two elite sides. Taking on one of the deepest benches in the NBA, Denver proved its own depth with all but two of their active players scoring in double digits.
The win is a crucial one for Denver on the eve of the postseason, bringing them within a game of 4th placed Memphis, and trimming the gap from the next placed Clippers to 2 1/2. Leapfrogging Memphis, and possibly even the Clippers, is absolutely imperative for Denver. As shown in tonight’s dominating performance, the Nuggets are unstoppable at home.
The win takes their home record to 27-3, tied for best in the league with the Heat.
A first round series with home court advantage against the Nuggets would be a scenario that no team in the West, from top to bottom, would want to encounter and the key behind Denver’s run in the playoffs.
The first quarter was a narrow affair, with Denver opening the game with a 17-9 lead before Matt Barnes and Chris Paul combined to keep L.A. in it early with 6 points and 3 assists respectively. Barnes continued to ride the hot hand off of the bench, compensating for an out-of-form Caron Butler (3-9FG, 8pts for the night), receiving many of Chris Paul’s 7 first half assists.
Barnes led all comers with 15 points at the half. However, the offensive explosion from the 32-year-old wasn’t enough for the Clippers to pull away, the game still level at 49 apiece at half-time. Matching theatrics with a team dubbed ‘Lob City’ isn’t be easy, especially after the insane play that broke the internet yesterday, but the youthful Nuggets were willing and able to bring it in the first half.
Andre Igoudala was scoring well in the first half, but none done better than his fastbreak alley oop slam off a Wilson Chandler feed in the closing minutes of the first quarter. After a Lamar Odom lay-up bounced off of the glass, Chandler hauled down the board and connected with a streaking Igoudala who was happy to finish the thunderous play, bringing the raucous Pepsi Center to its feet.
The third quarter proved to be decisive, with Denver breaking the deadlock and pulling away.
Despite only dropping 2 in the entire first half, Lawson stepped up in the opening minutes of the second half to take over. With the Clippers jumping out to an early 5 point lead, Lawson flipped the script with back-to-back threes, finding himself with 8 points two minutes into the half. Some hot shooting from Danilo Gallinari and complete play from Andre Igoudala led the Nuggets to a lead that ballooned to 13 points.
Gallinari backed up a solid 9 point first half with an explosive 10 third quarter points as Lawson, Chandler, Igoudala and Faried got in on the uptempo passing and scoring by the rampant Denver offense. Carrying a 10 point lead into the last quarter, Denver were able to control the rest of the game and went on to be 15 point victors.
Ty Lawson led the way again for Denver, dropping 21 points, 11 assists and hauling down 6 rebounds. Lawson was one of the key players in Denver’s second half breakout, scoring 19 of his points after the change of ends.
Kenneth Faried put in another efficient double-double, chipping in 4 monster blocks in the defensive effort. Gallinari netted 20, Igoudala put down 14 while Andre Miller and Wilson Chandler each gave 12 off the pine.
Matt Barnes led the Clippers despite only managed 4 second half points, burying 19 for the night on 40% from the field. Chris Paul managed 16 points and 10 assists in the losing effort, although failing to come up with a steal for merely the third game this season.
Denver’s success in this game came from their energy and work on both ends on the floor. The Nuggets shot at an outlandish 56% from the field and went 11-23 from beyond the arc, while holding the Clippers to 42% at the opposite end. Denver also caught the Clippers on a back-to-back, having just defeated the Bucks at Staples Center the night prior. It showed in the second half as L.A.’s defense slipped and their electric pace slowed.
The pressing Nuggets took full advantage of this and embraced the open floor, hitting each other for good looks seemingly every time down the floor. Denver finished +12 in assists for the night, championed by Lawson (11), Igoudala (7) and Gallinari (6).
From here, the Nuggets rest until Saturday where they take on the Minnesota Timberwolves at home, where they’ll be good odds to improve their home record to 28-3. For the Clippers, they have until Sunday to recuperate before they host Detroit at Staples to start their three game home stand.