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Nuggets Let 19-Point Lead Slip Away in Loss to Clippers
In the end, the Nuggets defense faded away at a most inopportune time. An L.A. Clippers player that logged just one minute of time in the previous nine games had an enormous impact. A 19-point Nuggets lead collapsed.
And, as a result of it all, the Nuggets were forced to absorb a stinging 122-120 loss to the Clippers in the midst of a playoff race. They fell out of the top eight in the Western Conference, replaced by the Clippers. Now ninth, the Nuggets also lost the season series to the Clippers, which means L.A. owns the tiebreaker between the two teams.
“That’s a tough loss,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “You’re up by 19 points in the third quarter. You have control of the game. And (Clippers coach) Doc (Rivers) clears his bench, puts his bench in the game and give those guys credit. Those guys kept competing and playing hard.”
And one of those players, 7-foot-3, 290-pound center Boban Marjanovic, dealt the biggest blow. He didn’t play a minute in the first half, and had only played one minute in the previous nine Clippers games, but his presence turned the tables immediately.
On offense, he rolled hard to the rim and finished well. He gobbled up any rebound near his airspace. Defensively, he altered shots. He helped the Clippers chip away at the lead and eventually take one of their own. His 18 points equaled his total output of his last 11 games combined. He had five offensive rebounds. He finished a plus-27 in his 15 minutes.
Marjanovic was part of a Clippers bench that scored 74 points. As a team, they also had 72 points in the paint.
It spoiled the “debut” of Nuggets forward Paul Millsap, who played for the first time in 44 games. He missed three months after having surgery on a sprained left wrist. Millsap was good, scoring nine points with seven rebounds. He added a couple of blocked shots as well.
“It felt good,” Millsap said. “The wrist felt good. So now I’ll just keep pushing to try to get a rhythm.”
The Nuggets built a 19-point lead (82-63) with 4:34 left in the third. But from there, the Clippers went on a 26-6 run, which gave them an 89-88 lead. And from there, another 11-4 Clippers run gave them a lead they’d never relinquish. The Nuggets made a game of it toward the end, but could not get a shot attempt on their final possession with a chance to tie or win.
Gary Harris led the Nuggets with 23 points. Murray, Nikola Jokić and Wilson Chandler all scored 18 apiece, and Will Barton had 19 points with seven rebounds and five assists.
The Nuggets now start a three-game road trip on Friday at Memphis.
“We now lose our head-to-head series against the Clippers,” Malone said. “That’s huge. …To be up 19 at home…we’ve got to close that game out. So if this one doesn’t sting, I don’t know what’s going to happen in these last 21 games. If it does sting, which I imagine it will, we’ll go on this road trip with a business mentality and come back with a couple more wins.”
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.