Denver Nuggets 111-124 Los Angeles Clippers: Three takeaways
For a second-straight outing, the Nuggets took a lead against a Western Conference powerhouse into the fourth quarter. And unfortunately, for Michael Malone and his team, it was another contest in which his reserves couldn’t seal a victory as Denver would lose 124-111 to the Clippers.
Jerami Grant was a sparkplug off the bench for the Nuggets, leading the team with 25 points in 28 minutes while Paul George paced Los Angeles with a game-high 27.
The loss seals the Nuggets seeding fate, as they will be the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. They will take on their Northwest Division rival, the Utah Jazz, in the first round of the playoffs.
"We got Toronto on Friday, it's one last opportunity for us to put forth a full 48-minute effort," Malone said after the game.
Here are the takeaways:
Jerami on fire in return
Jerami Grant was sidelined with an injury in the Nuggets’ loss to the Lakers Monday. His impact was felt in a big way against the Clippers Wednesday night.
Grant was a mismatch on both sides of the floor against Los Angeles and finished three points shy of his career-high of 28 points. On defense, he would at times cover Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on alternating possessions, showing how his length and speed could be an asset in the upcoming playoffs.
"He's very versatile [on] offense and defense," Jamal Murray said after the game. "Now we're getting more of that."
"The things he's doing, he's just unselfish on both sides of the floor," Nikola Jokić added. "It's really [good] to play with players like that."
Grant’s best play of the night might have come in the third quarter. Lou Williams would make a three-pointer to tie the game at 90 apiece with 5.4 seconds remaining in the quarter and Grant refused to let the Nuggets go into the fourth without the lead. The reserve forward ran the full length of the court, beating two defenders off the dribble before powering through with a thunderous slam.
"I thought Jerami was really good for us [on] both ends of the floor," Malone said. "I just like how he was on attack mode. He was downhill, attacking the basket, his three-point shot was working."
Grant has been averaging 17.8 points in six games during the NBA’s restart.
Nikola dropping dimes
Jokić was rested in the fourth quarter, but he had played one of his better games of the season through the first 36 minutes of the contest.
Through three quarters, Jokić weaved through the Clippers’ vaunted defense and couldn’t be stopped in setting up his teammates, dropping 13 dimes in that span. Jokić became only the second center in NBA history to have two seasons with 500 plus assists, with the other being NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain.
The Serbian was also impressive in getting buckets early as he poured in 13 of his 17 points in the first quarter.
Another second half collapse
This has been said in this space throughout the NBA’s restart, but it is difficult to be critical of a team that is missing two of its best perimeter defenders in Gary Harris and Will Barton III. It’s also hard to fully assess Denver when the team has been resting its starters in the fourth quarter – especially when said group gave the team a two-point lead heading into the final 12 minutes.
Still, there are concerns that need to be addressed ahead of the No. 3 Nuggets’ matchup against the sixth-seeded Utah Jazz next week.
The Nuggets saw an eight-point halftime lead dwindle away in the third quarter as they allowed the Clippers to go on a 20-5 run. Los Angeles took a 73-65 lead before Denver fought. Malone’s team can’t afford those lapses in the playoffs.
"It was a very bad second half," Malone said. "That was our challenge at halftime. We had a really good first half, are we going to be satisfied or are we going to build on it? They turned up the pressure and they got into us. They took us out of our offense and they got whatever they wanted. So a disappointing second half."