The Los Angeles Clippers managed to slow down the Denver Nuggets.
For a half.
”We still had momentum on our side, even though it wasn’t with the fast tempo and the fast pace that we normally play at,” Nuggets coach George Karl said after Denver raced to a 107-92 win over the surging Clippers on Thursday night.
The Nuggets rode 21 points from Ty Lawson and 20 from Danilo Gallinari to their 12th straight home win.
Seven Nuggets scored in double figures as Denver won its seventh straight overall and improved to 27-3 at home, tied with the Miami Heat for best in the NBA.
This win wasn’t like all the others, though.
The Clippers kept them in check, heading into the locker room knotted at 49 at halftime, and the Nuggets were getting their points on mid-range jumpers and unlikely 3-pointers instead of the alley-oop dunks and fast-break layups they normally get.
In the end, their youth and fresh legs won out as they ran away with another win and snapped the Clippers’ five-game road winning streak.
”They’re a veteran deep team and we’re a young deep team,” Karl said. ”At halftime I said, `Don’t get crazy. This is the first team in a while that’s kind of slowed us down and confused us. You’re not as bad as you think.’
”And fortunately, the 3-ball bailed us out. I know the film will show us some things that we’re probably going to have to work on, but in the same sense, we still get 107 points and I think by creating a lot of our offense off good defensive plays.”
The Clippers got 19 points from Matt Barnes and 17 from Blake Griffin, but L.A. was outscored by 10 in the third quarter and five more in the fourth.
”We just ran out of gas tonight,” Barnes said.
The Nuggets won the season series 2-1, a tiebreaker that could come into play if Denver can catch the Clippers for the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Right now, the Nuggets are in fifth, behind Memphis.
”We’re extremely dangerous, especially if we get home-court advantage,” JaVale McGee said. ”We’re a great team. We work hard, we play hard. And the way we’re playing right now, when we get to the playoffs, it’s going to be amazing.”
Before tip-off, Karl was asked about facing one of his favorite players, Chauncey Billups, his former point guard who was dragged into the Carmelo Anthony trade a couple years ago.
”I hope he has a good game,” Karl said, ”and I hope we win.”
The Nuggets, who last won a dozen straight at home in 2005, got the best of Billups in his latest homecoming. He scored eight points.
Karl also said his goal was three-fold: to get fewer turnovers, keep Paul from going off and match the Clippers’ 3-pointers.
Both teams had 11 turnovers, Denver outscored Los Angeles by a dozen points from long range and Paul had 16 points and 10 assists, one fewer than Lawson had.
”They made some shots. Obviously their penetration at times hurt but their 3-point shooting was the difference,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said of Denver’s uncharacteristic 11 3-pointers.
”Yeah, our 3-point defense has been terrible and part of it tonight, we know how many points they score in transition and in the paint. But tonight, they were in transition some but all their 3s were wide open,” Paul said. ”It’s not a great 3-point shooting team but tonight they were lights out and they were making free throws. They just beat us.”
Paul scored 10 straight points as the Clippers pulled to 88-80 early in the fourth quarter, but he was shut out over the final 9:44.
”Chris Paul had the stretch at the end of the third quarter, he was scaring me a little bit,” Karl said. ”And I thought he was going to try to take over the game, but fortunately, he never got back into rhythm.”
A bucket by Griffin, who was coming off his third career triple-double, gave the Clippers a 60-59 lead before the Nuggets scored 20 of the next 24 points.
The Clippers pulled to 85-75 heading into the fourth quarter but never got closer than eight as the Nuggets turned up the heat, outscoring them 13-2 on the fast break in the second half and stretching their lead to 18.
The Clippers sorely missed Jamal Crawford, who sat out with a sore left ankle that he injured in Wednesday night’s 117-101 win over Milwaukee in which he scored 25 points.
Without him, they couldn’t match the suddenly sharp-shooting Nuggets from long range.
”This team is traditionally known for scoring a lot of points in the paint but tonight they shot the ball well from the outside, as well,” Barnes said. ”We’ve got to pick our poison. It’s tough they play to their crowd here and they bring a lot of energy and when you’re down they step on your throat.”
Notes: Lawson didn’t have a single turnover. … Griffin was held to just two rebounds, tying the low for his career set March 20, 2011, against Phoenix. This was also the first time in his career that he’d been held to two boards and zero blocks. … With their 41st win, the Nuggets guaranteed Karl his 21st straight non-losing season, tied with Phil Jackson for the longest streak in NBA history.