The Los Angeles Clippers came into Thursday night's game against the Denver Nuggets on a serious roll. The Clippers had won four straight games against the likes of the Thunder, the Jazz, the Grizzlies and these same Nuggets and in the first quarter, it seemed that they would just keep right on rolling. Blake Griffin scored eight first quarter points that included two big dunks and the Clippers made four threes on their way to a 32-19 lead and seemingly another big win.
And then they hit the wall. Over the next two quarters, Denver outscored the Clippers 67-35. L.A.'s jump shots stopped falling, the Nuggets got out on the break, and they ran the Clippers into the ground. The middle 24 minutes of the game were a transition drill, and the Denver offense got it, while the L.A. defense didn't. The game flow graphic on PopcornMachine is just a steady incline during those middle two quarters. Denver went on runs of 11-4, 8-2, 6-0, 5-0, 12-3, 8-1, and finally 7-0 to open the final quarter. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro put up the white flag early, with Chris Paul's brief two-minute stint being the only appearance by a Clipper starter in the final period.
It's not surprising that Denver began to turn the tide in the second quarter. The Nuggets are one of the deepest teams in the league, while the Clippers don't have any bench to speak of beyond sixth man Mo Williams. The moment Paul went to the bench, a Denver unit consisting of Danilo Gallinari and four reserves started to take big chunks out of the league. When Blake Griffin took his first rest a few minutes later, the pace of the erosion quickened. Unfortunately for L.A., even when their starters returned, their game did not. Denver's bench had turned the tide for good.
It helped the Nuggets cause that Gallinari was on fire. Just 6-24 in the two losses prior to this game and shooting under 30 percent from three-point range on the season, Gallo made all five threes he took in the game -- four of them during a six-minute stretch spanning halftime. His first three of that sequence cut the L.A. lead to one; the next one gave the Nuggets their first lead since 2-0 with 67 seconds left in the first half; the final two were the first scores of the second half and stretched the Denver lead to nine. The Clippers never recovered.
In this lockout compressed 66-game season, we're hearing a lot about "schedule losses" -- games a team has little or no chance to win simply because of the rigors of frequent games and the accompanying travel. The Clippers had played the night before in Utah, and were playing their fourth game in five nights, with travel between each. Adrenaline and a home crowd carried the team to a big first quarter, after which they just ran out of steam. Players with tired legs will tend to leave jump shots short: after making 4-7 threes in the first quarter, the Clippers missed 14 of their next 15 three-point attempts, with the majority of them, you guessed it, short.
Gallinari finished the game with 21 points (on just 10 shots), 6 rebounds and 4 assists to lead the Nuggets and Ty Lawson finished with 18 and 6 assists. In typical Denver fashion, six other players finished with between 8 and 15 points. The Clippers were led by Griffin with 18 (only two of which came in the second half) and Paul with 15 and 9 assists. Randy Foye picked up 17, with 14 of those coming in garbage time.
With the win Denver moves to 15-7 and ahead of the Clippers into sole possession of second place in the Western Conference. LA drops to 13-7.