FINAL | March 7, 2013 | Pepsi Center | Denver, CO

Clippers

25

24

26

17

92

LOGO

27

22

36

22

107

 

ERIC PATTEN

DENVER – The Clippers hung with the Denver Nuggets into the early stages of the third quarter Thursday night, but one of the Nuggets’ best shooting performances of the year and the second night of a back-to-back in the Mile High City proved too much for the league’s fourth best team.

The Clippers fell, 107-92, at Pepsi Center, dropping the season series to Denver, two games to one, and falling to within a game and a half of fourth-place Memphis.

It was second loss in three games for the Clippers (44-20) and second this year in Denver, where the Nuggets (41-22) have lost just three times all year and own a 12-game winning streak.

Jamal Crawford, the NBA’s leading scorer off the bench, missed the game with a sore left ankle that he originally injured Sunday against Oklahoma City and “tweaked” Wednesday in a 16-point win over the Bucks.

Without Crawford, Matt Barnes scored a team-high 19 points, including 15 in the first half. Blake Griffin had 17 points, including eight during a spurt to open the third quarter, and Chris Paul added 16 points and 10 assists for his 22nd double-double.

“We have plenty of capable guys on this team, so when one guy goes down someone else has to step up,” Barnes said of the absence of Crawford, who is second on the team averaging 17.0 points per game. “We just ran out of gas tonight.”

The game played into the Clippers’ hands in the first half as they prevented the Nuggets, perhaps the premier fast-break team in the NBA, to just six points in transition. It was due in large part to taking care of the basketball.  

The starters did not have a single turnover after Griffin lost the ball on the first possession of the game and the Clippers committed five turnovers in the half. And despite only six points from Griffin and Paul combined, headed to the locker room tied with the Nuggets.

“We did a good job in the first half controlling the tempo with our offense,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Then, in the second half we didn’t do a very good job executing offensively or scrambling when we needed to. They made some shots. Obviously, their penetration at times hurt but their 3-point shooting was the difference.”

The Nuggets went 11-for-23 (47.8%) from 3-point range, which ran contrary to their usual 34.4% shooting as a team from distance on the season. It was only the fifth time all season Denver has made 11 or more 3-pointers in a game.

“They were just making shots tonight,” Paul said. “We kept them out of the paint. They average, what, 70 points in the paint or something like that. That’s what you want them doing. You want them shooting threes and not in the paint. Tonight, they had a great night.”

Still, the Clippers took a five-point lead early in the third quarter after former Nuggets point guard and Denver native Chauncey Billups nailed a 3-pointer from straightaway. But as they so often do at home, the Nuggets responded in a flash.

“They score buckets in a hurry, in bunches, you know,” Griffin said. “We came out at the beginning of the second half, scored, got buckets, got stops, scored and they kind of went on a little run again. We’ve just got to do a better job taking care of the ball. I’ve got to do a better job because that gets them out in transition.”

Ty Lawson, who scored 21 points with 11 assists, answered Billups’ shot with a 3-pointer of his own. After the teams traded baskets, the Nuggets went on an 8-0 run to seize a seven-point lead, triggered by a miss by Griffin, in which it appeared he was fouled by multiple defenders in the lane before flinging the ball up, and a technical foul against Paul a few seconds later.

“Blake got it going there for a minute,” Paul said. “But then when he got knocked upside his head, the game sort of changed there. They really fed off the energy. It’s probably my fault, I shouldn’t have gotten that tech. We should have been on the free throw line shooting free throws, too.”

Griffin had eight points and assisted on Billups’ 3-pointer, prior to a 20-4 run from the Nuggets that produced a 79-64 advantage.

After the Clippers found their way back in the game early in the fourth, they failed to convert on three consecutive possessions following defensive stops. The offensive drought in that stretch appeared somewhat deflating and the Nuggets capitalized, riding a 55.8% shooting night to their seventh win in a row.

“We’ve been better than this,” Griffin said. “I feel like it’s one thing away. One day we shoot terribly. Then one day we don’t defend well. It’s not like one thing we’re doing where we’re like, ‘We can’t compete.’ We can. We know we can. It’s just a matter of getting there.”

NOTES

Teams are 3-42 since 2007-08 when playing the second game of a back-to-back in Denver after travelling from the Pacific Time Zone… Lamar Odom had eight points and 10 rebounds in 16:00… Griffin and Paul combined to take 23 shots, while Barnes went 8-for-20 from the floor… Seven Nuggets finished in double-figures, including 20 points from Danilo Gallinari. He also had six assists and five rebounds… The Nuggets managed just 46 points in the paint, compared to the Clippers’ 42… It was the first loss of the season by the Clippers in a game Crawford did not play. They are 4-1…

After the game Billups talked about playing in his hometown for the first time since Jan. 29, 2012 when he scored 32 points to lead the Clippers to a four-point win.

“It’s always fun to be back home and play in front of family and friends,” said Billups, who had eight points and four rebounds. “This is my city, man. No matter where I’m at or where I’m playing people always appreciate me here and, of course, I always appreciate the fans.”

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