The Clippers knew it wouldn’t be easy — early morning arrival in Denver, thin air, back-to-back games, tough road venue.
To their credit, they kept it close for most of three quarters Friday night. But the Nuggets were too fast and too efficient at home, ending the Clippers’ five-game road winning streak with a 107-92 victory.
Beating the Nuggets on their home court has been a near impossibility. Denver has the NBA’s best home record (28-3) and has won 12 in a row at the Pepsi Center. Given the fact the Clippers had to fly into town after a game the previous night at Staples Center, this was no easy task.
Now throw in the absence of backup guard Jamal Crawford, who tweaked his left ankle Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks and sat out the game, and the Clippers had no real edge.
Still, they were tied 49-49 at the half, despite getting just four points from Blake Griffin and two from Chris Paul. But the Nuggets went on a 12-0 run in the third quarter after taking a 67-64 lead, and the Clippers were unable to close much ground after that.
“We did a good job in the first half controlling the tempo with our offense, and in the second half we didn’t do a good job executing offensively,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We did more scrambling than we needed to. They made some shots. Obviously their penetration hurt, but their three-point shooting was the difference.”
Three-point defense has been a common theme for the Clippers. The Nuggets made 11 of 23 (48 percent) from long distance and shot 56 percent overall. Ty Lawson was the game’s high scorer with 21 points.
With Crawford out, Matt Barnes kept the Clippers in the game in the first half. He scored 15 points in 18 minutes, and the Clippers showed an ability to keep pace with Denver. But Barnes had just four points in the second half, and the Clippers eventually faded.
Blake Griffin scored 17 points and Chris Paul had 16 and 10 assists, but the Nuggets couldn’t seem to miss from anywhere on the floor.
“We got Blake going a little bit in the third quarter, then we started turning it over, and they were out on the break hitting threes,” Del Negro said. “Then we were chasing them the rest of the game.”
In Denver, that’s not a good thing. Now the Clippers must concern themselves with hanging on to the No. 3 slot in the Western Conference. The Nuggets, currently fifth in the conference standings, are within 2½ games behind the Clippers. The Memphis Grizzlies, who were idle, are 1½ games behind.
The Clippers still hope they can pass Oklahoma City for the No. 2 seed in the conference playoffs, but they’ll also have to keep an eye on the teams lurking behind them.