Matt Barnes

DENVER – Prior to tipoff Thursday in Denver the Clippers learned supersub Jamal Crawford would not play due to a sore left ankle he “tweaked” a night earlier. For much of this season, in adverse situations, someone has stepped in to fill the void.

On Thursday it was Matt Barnes.

He scored a team-high 19 points, including an aggressive opening half that saw him put in 15 off the bench. The effort from Barnes was not enough to halt the Nuggets. But despite a 107-92 loss, the ability of the Clippers’ so-called “utility guy” to get easy baskets and slide in as the primary bench scorer proved another reason why Barnes has been invaluable in the first season of his second stint with the team.

“He’s a utility guy,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said of Barnes earlier this season. “Matt gets steals, blocks, you can put him on some of the better offensive players. He’s got really good length… He gets on the glass for us. He rebounds the ball, so his versatility really helps us, especially when we want to go with Caron [Butler] him and go a little bigger.”

Against the Nuggets, Crawford’s absence necessitated using Barnes and Butler together on the wing, and in the first half Barnes thrived in the role of shooting guard. Out of his six first-half field goals, four came on dunks or layups. He beat the fast-paced Nuggets up the floor on several the occasions and made two trips to the free throw line.  

This followed Wednesday’s game against the Bucks, where Barnes went 6-for-11 from 3-point range against the Bucks, coming one short of his career high. He’s been a bit of a revelation from long range all season, shooting 34.9% through 62 games with 89 makes. Barnes has only had more made 3-pointers in two seasons both with high-octane teams in Golden State and Phoenix.

His role in Los Angeles has been dictated by what is needed. He has rebounded, guarded, and because he thrives as a slasher and cutting off the ball, it has created plenty of easy opportunities at the rim.

Against Denver he played a two-man game with Lamar Odom, cutting after the two passed it back and forth and winding up with a layup and foul.

Moreover, Barnes has shown a knack for picking up his scoring when the Clippers have been short-handed. Prior to Thursday, he scored 19 points in Oklahoma City when he started in place of an injured Caron Butler, had 18 in Houston when Chris Paul was sidelined, and went for 19 points on the second night of a back-to-back in Charlotte.

Including the 19 against Denver, four of Barnes’ 12 highest scoring games have come on the second night of a back-to-back, which sort of proves a point Chris Paul made earlier in the season when he called the wiry Barnes the “most in-shape guy on the team.”

After 15 points in the first half to lead all scorers Thursday, though, Barnes decelerated. He did not make a basket until the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter when he flipped in a layup off a pass from a driving Eric Bledsoe and missed a handful of shots he felt he should have made.

“I think I was more aggressive attacking [earlier in the game],” Barnes said. “I think I kind of laxed up in the second half and settled for jump shots when I should have been attacking.”

Still, he finished with a season-high 20 shots, making eight, and providing needed offense with one of their key cogs sitting on the bench in a warm-up suit.  

“We have plenty of capable guys on this team,” Barnes said. “If one guy goes down, we have plenty of guys to step up, but we just ran out of gas tonight.”