Denver Nuggets 130, LA Clippers 128 (OT): Three takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyroNBA

Wednesday’s matchup between the Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers was not for the faint of heart. A 130-128 victory for Denver needed an extra five minutes, a 49-point triple-double from Nikola Jokić, and a game-winning 3-pointer from Aaron Gordon to end the game. For those who dealt with the stress of the back-and-forth affair, the payoff was well worth it in the end.

Denver came out firing Wednesday night, knocking down seven of its first nine shot attempts on the way to a 17-9 lead. LA would cut the lead to two later in the quarter, but the Nuggets continued to have a good flow on offense, which helped build a 29-25 advantage after the first 12 minutes. Denver dished out nine assists in the frame and shot 50 percent from the field.

As both teams went to their bench groups, LA took a 33-32 lead in the opening minutes of the second quarter, with 13 points coming from the second unit. The run continued for the Clippers, who extended their lead to 12 at 48-36 near the midway point of the second frame. As the offensive struggles continued for the Mile High squad, the Clippers took a 59-47 lead into the halftime break.

The deficit only grew for the Nuggets in the opening minutes of the second half as LA continued to score at will. However, towards the middle portion of the third quarter, Denver began its comeback attempt, using an 8-1 run to get within single digits at 71-63. An extended 14-1 run from the Mile High squad brought them within two points, as Jokić continued to dominate the quarter. The Nuggets were able to tie the game at 81 heading into the fourth after the Serbian big man scored 17 points in the third quarter alone.

The Nuggets opened the fourth quarter with a quick 5-0 run, which prompted an early timeout from the Clippers. However, LA responded with a 14-4 run to regain the lead at 101-95 with just under six minutes remaining. Denver tried to put together one final comeback attempt, cutting the deficit to three points (108-105) with just under three minutes remaining. As Jokić continued to thrive inside the paint, Denver tied the game at 110 with 1:34 remaining in the game.

The two teams traded buckets in the final minute, with a last-second attempt from Jokić missing its target, sending the game to overtime.

The Clippers were able to hold a lead throughout the first few minutes of overtime, but once again, Jokić had a response for the Nuggets, with his 45th and 46th points giving the Nuggets a 124-123 lead with 1:11 remaining. An incredible cross-court pass from Jokić to Gordon led to the game-winning 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds remaining.

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s win.

Jokić’s dominant third quarter fueled an elite performance

After having a relatively pedestrian first half (for his standards), Jokić really turned it on to begin the second half. The Serbian big man had 12 points at the break but then proceeded to score 17 points in the third quarter alone as Denver got back into the game.

The dominance continued in the fourth quarter and overtime, forcing constant double-teams and traps from LA’s defense.

In the end, the reigning MVP finished with 49 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists in his 41 minutes of action, serving as the hub for Denver’s offense throughout Wednesday’s contest.

Second unit struggles held Denver back at times

Wednesday’s game played out to a familiar tune, as the Nuggets found plenty of success when Jokić was on the floor but struggled to find a rhythm when the second unit was on the court.

In the first half, LA had a 20-10 advantage in bench points, which continued to grow in the second half. In the end, the Clippers got 46 points from their second unit while Denver got 15 points off the bench in Wednesday’s game. Although Denver was still able to pull out the win, more bench production will be needed Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Gordon and Morris stepped up

Although it came in a losing effort, Jokić certainly wasn’t alone out there Wednesday night, as both Aaron Gordon and Monte Morris chipped in alongside the Serbian big man in the starting unit.

Gordon finished with 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field, while Morris narrowly missed out on his first career triple-double, as he ended Wednesday’s contest with 19 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists. Considering that no other player scored more than 12 points for Denver in the loss, Jokić and the Nuggets needed every point they could get from Gordon and Morris.

Denver is back in action Friday against the Grizzlies (7 p.m. MT).

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