Denver Nuggets 85, Los Angeles Clippers 87: Three Takeaways

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Tuesday’s game certainly wasn’t a pretty sight, and the Denver Nuggets will certainly want to quickly move on from the result. Despite allowing just 28 points in the first half and building a 25-point lead in the third quarter, the Nuggets fell 87-85 to the LA Clippers Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

It was not an impressive start for either team on the offensive end of the floor, with the Nuggets holding a slim 10-8 lead midway through the first quarter. Early turnover issues held Denver’s offense back, as the Mile High squad coughed it up four times in the first six minutes. Both teams struggled mightily from deep in the opening frame, combining to shoot 1-of-17 from downtown. The Nuggets eventually took an 18-16 advantage into the second quarter.

It took 15 minutes, but Zeke Nnaji finally knocked down Denver’s first 3-pointer of the game early in the second quarter as the two teams continued to be locked in defensively. Denver couldn’t gain much separation while both second units battled, but the lead did grow to four midway through the second frame. In a first half in which made shots were a luxury, the Nuggets made just enough to gain a 10-point lead at 34-24 late in the second quarter, which eventually settled in at 41-28 by the halftime break.

Denver’s lead grew to 20 early in the second half as the Mile High squad continued to hit timely shots while LA struggled. Turnovers became an issue for the Clippers in the third quarter, which allowed the Nuggets to capitalize and grow the lead to 59-34. However, an 8-0 run from the Clippers got them back within striking distance. LA continued to slowly chip away at the lead and got within single-digits late in the frame at 62-55. Denver was able to get the lead back up to double-digits at 66-55 heading into the fourth quarter.

However, there was no cruising to the finish line for the Nuggets, as the Clippers used a 7-0 run in the opening 90 seconds of the final frame to get within four points, which prompted an early timeout from Nuggets head coach Michael Malone. LA continued to plug away and ultimately tied the game at 71 with seven minutes remaining. The two teams traded buckets in the ensuing minutes, with the Clippers taking an 83-81 lead with just over two minutes remaining. In the end, two attempts in the final seconds didn’t fall for Denver, which allowed LA to escape with the comeback victory.

Here are three takeaways from Tuesday’s loss.

Gordon was active early and often

On a night in which Denver’s offense struggled mightily, Aaron Gordon used his size and athleticism to make an impact. Gordon finished with 12 points and six rebounds in the first half, which saw him go 4-of-4 from the charity stripe.

Gordon continued to produce in the second half and ultimately finished with a season-high 30 points to go along with 11 rebounds on the night. When Denver needed buckets in the fourth quarter, Gordon was the man for the job, as he scored 13 points in the frame for the Mile High squad. Unfortunately, Gordon’s best performance of the season came in a disappointing loss.

Elite Rebounding and defense weren’t enough

When you hold a team to 28 points on 27.3 percent shooting from the field (1-of-14 from beyond the arc) in a half of basketball, you probably like your chances on that given night. The 28 points allowed marked the lowest Denver has given up in a first half since 2009.

Denver’s defense and elite rebounding in the first half set the tone for Tuesday’s game, as the Nuggets nearly doubled the Clippers on the glass 34-18 over the first 24 minutes, which ultimately resulted in a 56-31 advantage on the boards by the final buzzer.

However, the second half was a different story from deep, as LA knocked down nine threes, which turned the game around and allowed the Clippers to pull out the victory. LA ultimately finished at 40.5 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from downtown.

Turnovers and cold shooting continue to hurt

It’s hard to win a basketball game when you shoot 12.1 percent from beyond the arc and commit 20 turnovers.

Despite their elite defense through the first two-plus quarters, the Nuggets’ offense never got in a rhythm to withstand some improved shooting from LA in the second half. Denver shot 4-of-33 from beyond the arc, and the 20 turnovers led to 22 points for the Clippers, including 13 fast break points.

Denver continues to search for a rhythm on both ends of the floor for 48 minutes, with Tuesday’s game needing more shot-making in the recipe in order to pull out the win.

Denver returns home to face the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday (8 p.m. MT).