Tonight was perhaps the greatest regular season win the Denver Nuggets have had in a long, long time.

Without Jamal Murray. Without Nikola Jokic. Without Aaron Gordon. It just didn’t matter. The Nuggets gave the Los Angeles Clippers everything they had and walked out of Arena with a 113-104 win.

In the place of Denver’s three best players, the Nuggets started Reggie Jackson, DeAndre Jordan, and Justin Holiday, three veterans who simply know how to play and know what it takes to win. Denver still found time to play the young guys, but it was incredible performances by Jackson and Jordan in particular that gave the Nuggets a chance in this one. They simply kept battling and battling until the very end, ultimately embarrassing the Clippers on their home floor, led by Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and James Harden.

Jackson was the best player on the floor by a mile tonight. Playing against his former team, the Nuggets point guard had an absurd 35 points and 13 assists, shooting 14-of-19 from the field and only committing two turnovers. It was one of the most efficient volume playmaking performances I’ve ever seen from a bench player, and perhaps a nice message to send to a former team that gave up on him. Jackson diced up the Clippers defense, knifing into the lane to hit floaters, taking stepback jumpers, and whipping the ball around like a sorcerer with a wand. It was magical.

He couldn’t have done it without Jordan though. The Nuggets center, playing in just his THIRD game this season, was a monster in the middle, screening and diving down the middle of the floor for lob dunks and offensive rebounds. Jackson used his screens expertly to navigate open space, and the chemistry between Jackson and Jodan throwing the alley-oop was a sight to behold.

Jordan finished the game with 21 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, and three stocks, collecting seven dunks along the way and demoralizing the Clippers over and over again. It was a nice reminder of what the big man can give Denver on occasion, and maybe a sign of things to come for Denver’s second unit going forward. The chemistry between Jackson and Jordan was very fun, and the Nuggets could use an identity on the second unit.

Ultimately, the Nuggets went small at the end of the game though, taking out Jordan when the Clippers started to intentionally foul him. They inserted Peyton Watson into a small ball look, and Watson came up with some clutch plays down the stretch, including a steal from James Harden in the closing minutes. Watson can sometimes appear out of control and too amped up in certain moments, but he kept his cool tonight, hitting a big turnaround jumper over Russell Westbrook and playing stellar defense when the Nuggets needed it most.

Tonight wasn’t Michael Porter Jr.’s night, nor Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s night. On a second night of a back-to-back, those two struggled shooting efficiently, but they made up for it with good defensive work on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Leonard had 31 points, but he shot 10-of-26 from the field, working hard to get to the free throw line throughout the night. George was horrific throughout the evening, scoring six points on 2-of-13 shooting with just four assists and three turnovers.

Then, when the Nuggets needed a dagger shot the most, Reggie Jackson found Michael Porter Jr. for the kickout three on the left wing, effectively putting the game away with 54.2 seconds to go. Porter had just eight points on 13 shots, but the final three were the biggest of the bunch, and the 10 rebounds he collected made a difference in Denver’s smaller lineups as well.

Tonight was as great of a reminder as I can remember of the value of championship culture. It was a visceral example of a team that has it and a team that doesn’t. The Nuggets worked HARD tonight for every single possession. They fought on the glass, defended well, and made the Clippers earn the win. The Clippers didn’t oblige. Even when facing several older veteran reserves and several young, inexperienced players, the Clippers just didn’t find the gear they needed. James Harden lost the ball in multiple crucial moments. Kawhi Leonard was too busy trying to earn foul calls than actually convert baskets. Nobody on the Clippers seemed to think guarding Reggie Jackson or DeAndre Jordan was a great idea, and the Nuggets made them pay for it.

On the second night of a back-to-back, without their three best players, this is one of the greatest wins of the Michael Malone era, and a massive amount of credit should go to Malone and the coaching staff. The Nuggets just had a really tough road trip and could have quit on this game. Basically everyone thought they would punt, but the Nuggets treated it like the valuable opportunity that it was, and they won a game nobody expected them to win as a result.

Take a bow, Nuggets. You earned that one.

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