LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers scores on a layup in front of Andre Miller #24 of the Denver Nuggets during the second half at Staples Center on February 22, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Clippers won 103-95. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin combine for 63 points to help the L.A. Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets, as L.A. will take the Pacific Division lead into the All-Star break.
The Los Angeles Clippers had lost two games in a row for only the second time this season, and Chris Paul blamed himself. On Saturday against San Antonio, the Clippers seemed to have the game won when a Paul turnover in the final seconds led to a game-tying three pointer and L.A. loss in overtime. Against Golden State on Monday, Paul simply ran out of gas, and a scoreless fourth quarter helped the Warriors close the game on a 9-0 run for the win. On Wednesday night in L.A. against the Denver Nuggets, Paul wasn't about to let the Clippers suffer their first three-game losing streak of the season -- not if he could help it.
Paul scored a season-high 36 points to go along with nine assists and two steals to lead the Clippers to a 103-95 win. Blake Griffin, the beneficiary of several Paul assists, contributed 27 points, 12 rebounds and five assists and DeAndre Jordan had 10 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots, all of the blocks coming in the decisive fourth quarter.
Denver was undermanned in this game. The Nuggets were missing three of their top four scorers and a fourth rotation player as Nene (calf), Danilo Gallinari (ankle), Ty Lawson (ankle) and Rudy Fernandez (back) all sat out with injuries. Even so, the game was a close affair, with neither team establishing a lead greater than five until the Clippers used a 12-2 run to establish an eight-point lead with a minute left in the game.
Paul had been inconsistent in his last three games. Against Portland and San Antonio he did little during the first three quarters, before finally coming to life in the fourth. Then against Golden State he had the opposite problem, having a huge first half before disappearing in the second half. Wednesday night against the Nuggets he played a much more complete game. He started slowly, not scoring in the first quarter, but erupted for 13 in the second, 14 in the third and nine more in the fourth. Paul and Griffin were the whole show for the Clippers in the second half, scoring 41 of the team's 51 points as the rest of the roster struggled to make a shot.
For the Nuggets, Arron Afflalo continued his strong recent play with 20 points on just 10 shots. Rookie Jordan Hamilton, forced to play 24 minutes because of all the injuries, responded with a career-high 18 points, making 4 of 5 three-point attempts.
This game was important for the Clippers. Not only did it snap the two-game losing streak, but with the Lakers winning in Dallas Wednesday night, a loss would have dropped the Clippers into a virtual tie with the other L.A. team in the Pacific Division. The win keeps the Clippers on top of the Division, the first time the team has ever led the division heading into the All-Star break.
The Clippers improved to 20-11 on the season. The team didn't get their 20th win until game number 52 last season. Denver drops to 18-16. The All-Star break can't arrive quickly enough for the Nuggets, who just need to get healthy, but they have one more game, Thursday night against San Antonio, before the weekend.