Nuggets blow late lead and fall to the Los Angeles Clippers

Jan 11, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe (12) and guard Terance Mann (14) play for the ball against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the second half at Crypto.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets had as much as a 25-point lead midway through the third quarter only to see that lead slowly diminish as the Los Angeles Clippers outscored them 53-26 to close it out and win 87-85.

“We have a really good player that we can’t get the ball to,” Michael Malone said. “We had a lot of guys that looked a little nervous out there as they turned up their pressure. So any time you lose a game where you led by 25 points in the second half is unacceptable. If you can’t get Nikola Jokic the basketball that’s a big big problem.”

Jokic only attempted 14 shots Tuesday night which has been an ongoing issue as of late. He’s getting double and triple teamed almost every possession and the Nuggets have been trying to find ways to get their MVP the ball.

“They were switching one through five,” Jokic said. “They were really aggressive and especially the guards in the second half.”

With under three minutes left in the game, Denver had an 81-80 lead. With guys all over him, Jokic had to force up a bad shot at the shot clock buzzer and missed it. That led to back-to-back 3-pointers for Los Angeles to take an 86-81 lead with 1:46 left. With 28 seconds left in regulation Jokic cut the deficit to two and then the Nicholas Batum went up for the 3-pointer with 9.2 seconds left at the other end and missed it. Denver had a chance to take the lead or tie it. Malone didn’t call a timeout which was a highly questionable move at this particular point in the game. He had his reasoning for it though.

“Our execution was piss poor so if we called a timeout we would’ve been doing them a favor,” Malone said. “We probably wouldn’t have gotten the ball in bounds the way things were going for us so yeah we had one to take but I just felt we were going to have a much better chance of getting a good look by just letting the game flow.”

With the clock winding down, Jokic jacked up a long 3 and missed it but Aaron Gordon had the opportunity to quickly get a shot off with .1 seconds to go. It nearly went in but wouldn’t drop.

Gordon led all scorers with 30 points and also pulled down 10 rebounds. Jokic scored 21 points, grabbed 13 boards, and had eight assists. The rest of Denver struggled shooting and finished the game 40 percent from the field and 12 percent from 3-point range. It also had 19 turnovers, which played a major role in allowing Los Angeles back into the game.

Both the Clippers and Nuggets came out sluggish offensively. Denver went 8 of 22 from the field and 0 of 9 from beyond the arc. The Nuggets did out-rebound Los Angeles 18-11 in the quarter, so that was a plus. The Clippers shot 6 of 22 from the field and 1 of 8 from 3-point range. Midway through the quarter neither team scored for over three minutes. Denver had a 18-16 lead.

The Nuggets stepped it up in the second quarter. They went on a 6-0 run late to go up 34-24 and ultimately outscored Los Angeles 23-12 to take a 41-28 lead at halftime.

Things got interesting in the third quarter. They took as much as a 25-point lead with six minutes left to go but the Clippers went on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 17. Terance Mann scored nine of his 13 points in the third to fuel a 21-3 run over the last six minutes of the quarter. Denver still had a 66-55 lead but the momentum shifted. The Nuggets had seven turnovers and couldn’t buy a bucket.

Mann opened the fourth with a 3-pointer, Eric Bledsoe scored a layup, and Brandon Boston Jr. threw down a dunk on the fast break after another costly Denver turnover. And just like that the Nuggets lead was down to four. Malone put his staters back in and didn’t get much production from any of them. Besides Gordon who had 13 points in the quarter and Jokic with six, no other Nuggets player scored. Gordon hit some big baskets but the Clippers responded every time and eventually tied it at 71 with 7:03 left. Denver regained the lead after consecutive Gordon dunks but it was Reggie Jackson for the three to give the Clippers their first lead of the game since the 10:39 mark of the second quarter. There were a total of three lead changes down the stretch until Los Angeles hit two triples in a row with 1:46 left. The Nuggets just couldn’t bounce back from that.

“Losses like this keep me awake for weeks,” Malone said. “I think today’s NBA player, they’re worrying about where they’re going out tonight.”

Amir Coffey led the Clippers with 18 points while Reggie Jackson and Terance Mann scored 13 points a piece.

Denver now heads back home for a six-game home stand starting with Portland on Thursday evening.

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