Thursday, March 7, 2013
Rapid Reaction: Nuggets 107, Clippers 92
By Arash Markazi
It’s no secret that the second night of a back-to-back in Denver is one of the toughest games on any team’s schedule. Not just because of the quick turnaround in travel and getting acclimated to the altitude, but the Pepsi Center has always been one of the toughest road arenas in the league. This season, the Denver Nuggets are 27-3 at home, tied for the best home mark in the NBA.
This was the kind of game that the Los Angeles Clippers were expected to lose but really needed to win in order to avoid a possible matchup with Denver in the postseason. After the Nuggets beat the Clippers 107-92 on Thursday night, the Nuggets not only took the season series and tiebreaker, but also climbed to just 2 ½ games behind the Clippers for the No. 3 seed in the West.
There are just 18 games left to play this season, and the goal for the Clippers now is to hang on to the No. 3 seed with the Memphis Grizzlies and Denver hot on their heels. A first-round series with the Utah Jazz or Houston Rockets is one thing, but if the Clippers have to face Denver or Memphis (again) in the first round in a possible 4-5 matchup, all the talk of how the Clippers match up with the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs might be a moot point.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Vinny Del Negro has constantly asked Chris Paul to be more aggressive early in games. He wants Paul to set the tone for the game offensively and then let the game come to him rather than vice versa. Paul, however, would rather get his teammates involved in the game early and come on late. Most of the time Paul’s strategy works fine, but against Denver, the Clippers really needed Paul to be more of a factor early in the game. Paul only had two points on 1-of-4 shooting in the first half. The problem for the Clippers is if Paul starts a game slow, he usually finishes strong, but Paul had just five points on 2-of-4 shooting in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets pulled away late and went up by 18 points.
One of the biggest problems for the Clippers this season has been their 3-point defense, or lack thereof. In every big game they have lost, one of the constants has been the opposition getting wide-open looks from beyond the arc. That was the case once again in Denver, as the Nuggets hit 11-of-23 3-pointers. Before the game, George Karl said one of his goals was to hit as many 3-pointers as the Clippers. Well, the Clippers hit just 7-of-22 from beyond the arc. The Nuggets are not even a particularly good 3-point shooting team, ranking 26th in 3-point field goal percentage. But when facing the Clippers this season, even bad 3-point shooting teams look good. In their past seven losses, the Clippers' opponents are shooting close to 50 percent from downtown.
“Our 3-point defense has been terrible,” Paul told reporters after the game. “All their 3s were wide open. It’s not a great 3-point shooting team, but tonight they were lights out.”
No Crawford, slight problem
One night after Jamal Crawford made one of the best lob passes of the season to Blake Griffin, Crawford sat out Thursday’s game with a sore left ankle. Crawford injured the ankle in the second quarter of the Clippers’ game Wednesday against Milwaukee and played through it. Without Crawford, Matt Barnes stepped his game up and finished with 19 points. Lamar Odom added eight points and 10 rebounds while Eric Bledsoe had five points, four rebounds and two assists. As well as the bench played in Crawford's absence, they couldn't make up for the Clippers' starters, who were a combined -85 while the Nuggets' starters were a combined +82.