Good, bad, ugly: Nuggets turn up the defensive intensity in win over Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers forward Johnathan Motley (15) shoots against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the fourth quarter at the Pepsi Center.
Feb 24, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Johnathan Motley (15) shoots against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the fourth quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets started their post All-Star break run with a 114-104 road victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday evening. That night it was the big men who stole the show with Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee and Nikola Jokic all having big games.

On Sunday afternoon, Denver welcomed in a Los Angeles Clippers team that found themselves in a tough predicament. Even after their loss to the Nuggets on Sunday, the Clippers are sitting in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings the playoffs despite making a blockbuster trade that sent away Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott to the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Nuggets only allowed the Clippers to shoot 34 percent from the field in their 123-96 victory which secured Denver’s head-to-head tiebreaker over the Clippers. With that I give you the good, bad and ugly.

Good – Total team effort

The Nuggets are now on a four-game winning streak after beating the Clippers by 27 points on Sunday and have now move to 41-18 on the season.

In the win, the Nuggets defended the 3-point line as well as they have all season long as they limited the Clippers to 3-21 from beyond the arc, but it was a total team effort on offense that got them going.

The Nuggets have not seemed to skip a beat while getting their players back from injury and implementing them into their rotation. Now, as Denver gets healthier by the day, they keep showing the rest of the league exactly why they are considered one of the most complete teams in the entire NBA.

Six players scored in double figures for Denver to display that balance on Sunday against the Clippers.

Jokic led the Nuggets in scoring as he recorded 22 points and 16 rebounds. He attacked inside and grabbed what seemed like every rebound that came his way while also setting the tone offensively.

Millsap joined in on the action as well and looked as strong as he has all season long. He was a pest on defense as he typically is, recording three steals and two blocks, but his offense as of late has been a revelation for Denver. He finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds in Denver’s big-time win.

Jamal Murray had 16 points and six assists while knocking down a couple of 3-pointers. The bench unit also contributed. Gary Harris had 14 points as he came off of the bench and flashed signs that he is getting back to being close to full strength. Isaiah Thomas finished with 10 points as well.

The Nuggets are now 26-4 at the Pepsi Center and hold the best record in the entire NBA at home. With the entire roster playing with extreme effort on both ends of the floor, the Nuggets will surely finish out the year as one of the top teams in the NBA.

Bad – Gallinari gets loose early

Gallinari is a player that the Pepsi Center crowd knows very well because he spent six seasons with the Nuggets before being traded away last season.

When healthy, Gallinari is one of the most difficult offensive players in the league to defend because he is very versatile and his size is overwhelming. On the year he is averaging 18.8 points a game along with six rebounds and he continued his stellar play in the Clippers road loss to the Nuggets.

In his return back to Denver, Gallinari had everything going for him early on. In the first half, he was aggressive down low as he forced switches on the picks and created the mismatch. Once he got the mismatch he went with his well-known post-up game which is a comfortable spot for him and the Nuggets did not have any answers early on to slow him down. He went into the half with 13 points as he hit jump shots, pullups and finished at the rim.

He slowed down a bit in the second half and ended up finishing the game with 19 points, but Gallinari was one of the only reasons that the Clippers remained in the game for most of the first half.

Ugly – Rough second quarter

There seems to be one quarter per game that the Nuggets allow the opposing team to get going and back into the game. While it is typically the first quarter that the Nuggets have to make up for, it was a bit different this game.

The Nuggets opened up the game playing well on the defensive end of the floor. There was communication, they switched the pick and roll well and were active on the boards which put them ahead comfortably heading into the second quarter.

In the second quarter; however, they were not as locked in on the defensive end and the Clippers took advantage. They put up 29 points in the quarter and got within three points before the Nuggets opened things back up.

Denver was not sticking with their man which allowed open mid-range jumpers and drives to the basket. They did not communicate on switches which led to shots at the rim and their bad play on defense carried into the offense where the Nuggets began to turn the ball over as a result.

In the second quarter, the Nuggets turned the ball over more times (7) than any other quarter this year.

To make matters worse, the second quarter was also a rough quarter for the referees. The refs forced the game to be slower as they called a ton of fouls turning the game into a snooze fest as both teams went to the free-throw line 22 times a piece in the first half. There was a total of 30 free-throw attempts between the two teams in the second quarter alone.

Denver is adjusting to having a deeper rotation, but defensively the Nuggets are trying to get back to the team they were that started the season great on that end of the floor. In order to do so, they cannot have quarters as they did in the second period on Sunday.