The Denver Nuggets bounced back from two straight losses to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 127-115 at Ball Arena on Tuesday night. Nikola Jokic had a dominant game with 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists while seven other Denver players scored in double figures.
It was a complete team effort from start to finish. Aaron Gordon was in attack mode and finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists but also did all the little things.
“Sometimes I just got to get myself going on some intangibles type of plays whether it be offensive rebounds or a hustle play or an offensive foul,” Gordon said. “It doesn’t always have to be a three or a jumper or something like that. It can be within the game. The game within the game, that’s what keeps me going.”
Jeff Green and Bones Hyland also put up 16 points a piece. Monte Morris scored 15 points and went 3-3 from long range. He also made some big plays down the stretch. Austin Rivers scored 11 off the bench and Will Barton had ten.
“Yes, Nikola is an MVP but this team, with nine games to go, needs everybody to step their game up down the stretch and alleviate some of the pressure that is put on Nikola every night,” Michael Malone said. “So to have all five starters in double figures, to have Bones and Austin Rivers in double figures off the bench, 31 assists and only 11 turnovers and we did a really good job defending the 3-point line.”
Denver strives to put up 30-plus assists every night and made a couple big plays where the ball movement was superb. The Nuggets are currently second in the league in assists per game averaging 27.5.
The Nuggets shot 54% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc while holding the Clippers to just 31% from beyond the arc for the game and 29% in the second half.
It’s clear the Nuggets are a very good basketball team even though they’re not at full strength, so most of the time when they do lose it’s because of their lack of effort not their lack of skill. They know that they have to do better to close out the season.
“You just play with more effort,” Morris on what Denver has to do better consistently. “You are who you are at this point in the season. You know why you win and you know why you lose so at this point it’s really we know why we lose at times. It’s the effort. I think the effort wasn’t there in Cleveland or against Boston.”
Denver took control of its game against Los Angeles at the very beginning by taking a 37-27 lead at the end of the first quarter. Jokic had 14 in the first with five rebounds.
In the second quarter, the Nuggets went up 46-34 until the Clippers went on a 14-5 run to get within three points. That’s when Denver’s ball movement started clicking and Barton knocked down a triple and Morris hit two in a row to go up 72-59. Jokic closed the lid on the first half with a tip-in shot at the buzzer to give the Nuggets a 74-61 lead at halftime.
Denver stayed in control in the third quarter and led by as much as 14 points. Both teams didn’t get much going offensively and scored 27 points each but the Nuggets still had the 99-88 advantage.
The Clippers opened the fourth on a 5-0 run but the Nuggets responded with an 8-2 run to go up 107-95. The Clippers called a timeout and answered with a 5-0 run to cut the lead to seven. Then Denver called a timeout but Los Angeles kept attacking and got within two points with just under five minutes in regulation. That’s when Morris came up clutch and knocked down a big time three and then Jeff Green followed to give the Nuggets a 117-109 lead. The Nuggets would end up closing it out to win it 127-115.
The Nuggets are now back in sixth place with a 43-30 record and a full game in front of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Their main goal for the remainder of the season is to avoid the play-in game which is something the players have been putting a lot of emphasis on.
Unfortunately for Denver, it plays the best team in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns, this Thursday and a team it has struggled with all season long in the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday. It will also face the Timberwolves next week, which is a very tough schedule to close out the regular season but the Nuggets don’t make any excuses and have high expectations for the rest of the season.
“Right now it’s nine games to go there’s no excuses,” Malone said. “I’m not saying we’re going to go 9-0 but we have to leave it all out there. It can’t be a question of effort. Did we play hard enough? Did we have enough urgency? That is out the window. We have to do that. If we lose it just has to be another team being better than us that night.”