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Saturday, December 21, 2013
Rapid Reaction: Clippers 112, Nuggets 91

By Jovan Buha
Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com



LOS ANGELES -- J.J. Hickson caught a bounce pass from Ty Lawson and went up for a dunk. Blake Griffin, the closest help defender, instantly recovered and met Hickson at the apex of jump, blocking his shot.

Hickson grabbed the loose ball and gathered himself under the rim. With Griffin off balance and out of the play, Hickson went up again.

Swat. DeAndre Jordan rotated over and erased the layup, which ultimately led to free throws for Griffin on the other end.

As the Los Angeles Clippers continue to grasp coach Doc Rivers’ defensive schemes, these sequences have become commonplace; the Clippers had nine steals and eight blocks for the game. More important, the win column validates Los Angeles’ recent progress.

The Clippers held the Denver Nuggets to just 35.2 percent shooting in L.A.’s 112-91 win Saturday night, protecting the rim and thwarting a pick-and-roll attack, thanks in large part to Griffin's and Jordan’s activity. Despite entering the game with the 11th-most efficient offense, the Nuggets shot under 40 percent in each of the first three quarters and would have struggled to crack the 85-point mark if not for Wilson Chandler’s (19 points) monster first half.

With the victory, the Clippers (19-9) have won four in a row -- tied for their longest streak of the season -- and held seven of their last nine opponents to 95 points or less.

How it happened: The Clippers held the Nuggets to 29.2 percent shooting and led by 13 points at the half after Darren Collison nailed an over-the-shoulder buzzer-beater. Denver scored the first seven points of the second half to narrow the gap to six points, but Los Angeles responded with a commanding 23-10 run to end the third. The fourth quarter saw both teams play little defense and combine for 64 points, with the Clippers’ second unit outplaying the Nuggets’ reserves and stretching the final margin to 21 points.

What it means: After a disappointing 12-7 start, the Clippers are rolling -- they’ve won seven of their last nine games and established themselves as clear favorites for home-court advantage in the West. With Matt Barnes back and J.J. Redick likely to return in the next two to three weeks, and the Clippers’ defense continually rising in the defensive efficiency rankings, Los Angeles is rounding into full strength.

Hits: Jamal Crawford scored 27 points, going 6-for-12 from deep.

Griffin scored 24 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and dished out four assists.

Chris Paul also chipped in a double-double, with 10 points and 11 assists.

In his first game back, Barnes scored 13 points (three 3-pointers) and added two steals and three blocks.

Misses: The Clippers were sloppy with the ball, turning it over 17 times.

Denver scored 31 points and shot 52.9 percent in the fourth quarter.

Stat of the game: Six. That’s how many fast-break points the Nuggets -- who play at the seventh-fastest pace and average 13.9 fast-break points per game – were held to by the Clippers.

Up next: The Clippers host the Minnesota Timberwolves -- whom they already have defeated twice this season -- on Sunday. They have Monday and Tuesday off before traveling north to face the Golden State Warriors on Christmas day.