On a night when Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were less than razor sharp, the Los Angeles Clippers still managed to eke out a key road victory against the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night. With Paul and Griffin misfiring, the Clippers turned to Mo Williams and former Nugget Kenyon Martin for all the big plays in the fourth quarter as the Clippers came from behind for the 104-98 win.
L.A. needed the win, too. The Clippers sit in fourth place in the Western Conference, with Memphis just two games behind. The Grizzlies had already beaten New Orleans Wednesday and may not lose again during the regular season given their absurdly soft remaining schedule. In order for the Clippers to hold them off (and in the process retain the all-important home court advantage in a first round playoff series with the Grizzlies should the teams finish the season four and five), they can only afford two more losses this season. Given that their game in Denver was the first of four remaining road contests against teams fighting for playoff positioning, avoiding three more losses is no small task. At the same time, the Clippers still hold out hope that they can catch the Lakers for the Pacific Division title and third place in the conference. In that chase, every single win counts.
Denver dominated the game early, and built their lead as high as 12 in the first quarter. The Clippers' second unit battled back in the second quarter and Denver's lead was down to six at the intermission. Had it not been for some red-hot three point shooting by the Clippers (they made 7-10 first half three-pointers) the lead would have been much bigger.
L.A. opened the second half on a 14-2 run to flip the six-point margin in the game, and the teams went back and forth the rest of the way. Neither team led by more than six points the entire second half.
For a time, it seemed that Ty Lawson would take matters into his own hands and carry the Nuggets to victory. Lawson scored the first 11 Denver points of the fourth to give the Nuggets a five point lead. But Williams turned out to be the Clippers' fourth quarter answer for Lawson. He scored 12 points in the quarter, and on two separate occasions beat the shot clock buzzer with a desperation shot when the Denver defense had shut down the Clippers offense for 23-plus seconds -- the second of those last second heaves was a 35 foot three-pointer that gave the Clippers a six point lead with three minutes remaining.
The Nuggets had one last push in them and scored seven of the next eight points to tie the game at 96 on a pair of Andre Miller free throws with 52 seconds left. Which was all just setting the stage for Martin's heroics.
All season long the Clippers have turned to Paul with games on the line, and more often than not he has delivered. Wednesday night, he was just 1-6 in the final period. His short jumper as the shot clock was winding down was the type of shot he's made more often than not. When this one missed, Martin found his way to the offensive rebound and scored the tip in for the go ahead bucket. After a Denver timeout, the Nuggets ran a back screen for Lawson, who managed to make the catch away from Paul at the rim -- and once again Martin saved the day, blocking Lawson's layup with 19 seconds remaining. The Clippers made their free throws down the stretch and held on for the huge win.
Paul finished the game with 21 points and 8 assists, though he was just 8-19 from the field. Griffin was held to 12 points on 5-12 shooting, though he did grab seven rebounds and hand out five assists. Griffin is oft-criticized as a one-dimensional power player, but in fact he is among the league leaders in assists from the forward position, and the Clippers are now 13-0 in games where Griffin gets five or more assists. Williams finished with 19 and three other Clippers also scored in double figures.
Lawson led the Nuggets with 24 points, Al Harrington came off the bench to score 14, and four other Nuggets had a dozen each.
With the win, the Clippers improve to 39-23 overall, 16-14 on the road. They are among the hottest teams in the league, 13-2 in their last 15 games. The Nuggets, also battling for playoff positioning, drop to 34-28 overall and fall behind Dallas into the seventh position in the Western Conference. With just four games remaining, the Nuggets could easily finish the season as the sixth seed -- or out of the playoffs completely for the first time in George Karl's tenure as head coach in Denver.
For all of Wednesday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.