Nikola Jokic’s triple-double sinks Clippers

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) defends against Los Angeles Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari (8) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center.
Jan 10, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) defends against Los Angeles Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari (8) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Led by another triple-double from Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets continued their dominant play at home this season with a 121-100 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

With the win, Denver’s record now sits at 28-12, which is good for a game-and-a-half lead over the Golden State Warriors for first place in the Western Conference. The win also pushes Denver’s home record to 17-3, which is the best mark in the West. Denver has now won 11-straight games at the Pepsi Center and six of their last eight overall.

With both teams coming into Thursday night having won five of their last seven games, something had to give in the Nuggets and Clippers third matchup this season. After defeating the Clippers to open the regular season, Denver lost to Los Angeles in the second matchup just a few weeks ago. The two teams play a total of four games this season, so Denver winning Thursday night gives them a leg up on the tiebreaker, which could pay off huge come playoff seeding in April.

The Nuggets began Thursday night with a lot of what worked in their last victory in Miami over the Heat, which was a healthy dose of Jokic and Torrey Craig. A Jokic free throw got the Nuggets going offensively, before Craig rattled off five-straight points to give Denver an early three-point lead. Denver also got a major boost from Malik Beasley — starting in place of Gary Harris (out, left hamstring tightness) — as he drilled a 3-pointer and a floater to give the Nuggets a 15-10 lead with 7:28 left in the first quarter.

Beasley’s exceptional play only continued as he hit two more 3-pointers just a few possessions later, while also making a big contribution on the defensive end of the floor. With one block and one steal just midway through the first, Beasley was not just scoring, but made just as big an impact on the defensive end of the floor. Led by the exceptional first quarter from Beasley, the Nuggets were able to take a 37-25 lead into the second period.

Denver’s success in the first quarter was in large part to their outstanding shooting numbers and complimentary defense. After one quarter of play, the Nuggets were shooting 14-of-21 from the field and 4-of-6 from three-point range. Denver also had four steals and two blocks on the defensive end of the floor as they forced seven Clippers turnovers. Turning defense into offense was a recipe for success in the first and was something Denver looked to duplicate as the game wore on.

The Nuggets would certainly build on that to start quarter number two as a Craig 3-pointer followed by a block from Juancho Hernangomez kept the momentum on Denver’s side. In what was a back and forth start to the quarter, Denver still held a 44-34 lead with 9:23 left in the half. Thanks to some solid play from their second unit, the Nuggets held a double-digit lead for most of the quarter, which allowed Jokic to get some extended rest on the bench.

When Jokic subbed back in at the midway point of the second, Denver’s starting unit continued to feast on Los Angeles as they had no answer for the Nuggets big man. Even though Jokic was not scoring the ball, he was constantly finding his teammates as he already had six assists with five minutes left in the quarter. Jokic would ultimately finish the first half with seven dimes and five points as the Nuggets held a 65-54 lead after two quarters of play.

At the half, Denver was shooting a blistering 26-of-46 from the field and 8-of-13 from downtown. The Nuggets were led offensively by Jamal Murray, who had 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, 2-of-3 from three-point range. Beasley was not far behind with 13 points of his own as Craig and Mason Plumlee also chipped in double figures with 10 points a piece.

The second half started a lot like the game started, with a healthy dose of Jokic running the show for Denver. In the opening minutes of the third, Jokic already had four points and two assists, including a one-handed full-court pass that resembled something you only see during Sunday football games.

That incredible pass and layup made the score 75-60 in favor of Denver with 7:55 left in the third quarter. Jokic’s play to start the period really set the tone for the Nuggets performance in the second half as Denver continued to control the pace of play. Just like they had done all night, the Nuggets were complimenting tremendous offense with just as good of defense. Those two factors, coupled with the phenomenal play of Jokic, allowed the Nuggets to hold a double-digit lead all quarter as they took a 93-76 lead into the final period of play.

Denver was firmly in control of the game heading into the fourth, but former Nuggets player Danilo Gallinari was having a pretty good night to keep Los Angeles in the game. In his first game back at the Pepsi Center, Gallinari had a really solid performance as he scored 18 points in his return. Still, it would not be enough for the Clippers to overcome Denver in the final quarter of play.

After starting the quarter on a 7-3 run to stretch their lead to 21 points, Denver kept their foot on the gas for the remainder of the period. The Nuggets energy halted any chance of a comeback for Los Angeles as Denver was firmly in front as they held a 111-92 lead with just under four minutes to play. This was around the same time Jokic recorded yet another triple-double as the Nuggets shut the door on any potential comeback by Los Angeles. Most of the Nuggets second unit handled the rest of the game as Denver controlled the final four minutes of play to ultimately walk away with a 121-100 victory over Los Angeles.

Stat leaders for the Nuggets were Murray, who led the team with 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field, 2-of-4 from three-point range. Jokic also had another big night finishing with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists in route to his second straight triple-double. It was Jokic’s fifth triple-double of the season as he continues to lead the Nuggets to big time victories. Beasley also had a great night finishing with 15 points, five assists, two steals, and one block to go along with his three makes from distance. Other notable stat lines came from Plumlee, Monte Morris, and Craig who all finished in double figures with 17, 14, and 14 points respectively. Plumlee also finished with a double-double as he hauled in 12 rebounds in the win.

The Nuggets now have a day off tomorrow before they are back in action Saturday night in Phoenix to face the Suns.