With a team full of role players, the Denver Nuggets convincingly defeated the star-studded Los Angeles Clippers, 112-91, at Staples Center on Thursday to assume the second best record in the Western Conference.
No Nuggets players were voted All-Star starters to represent the West, but collectively, Denver showed the rest of the league just how good they are with an impressive victory over the Pacific Division-leading Clippers, ending L.A.’s four-game win-streak. On Thursday, the Clippers’ Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were named starters for the Western Conference in the NBA All-Star game in Orlando later this month. And although, Denver may not have a certified superstar -Nene Hilario finishing fourth among centers and Danilo Gallinari ninth among forwards in the West- they’ve built the NBA’s second-ranked offense on the strength of their complementary players. Led by Gallinari’s 21 points, five Nuggets scored in double figures as Denver received 39 points from their bench to snap their two-game losing streak.
After a tough four-point loss to the Clippers at the Pepsi Center on Sunday, the Nuggets dominated the home team on Thursday. Coming off an atrocious shooting performance against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday (eight points in 25 minutes), Gallo bounced back and torched the Clippers for 21 points in 26 minutes on 7-of-10 shooting, along with six rebounds and four assists against only a single turnover. He was lethal from behind the arc, draining all five of his attempts from 3-point land, and used his deadly outside shot to attack the rim. Denver trailed Los Angeles 32-19 after the first quarter, but when the Clippers second unit took over in the second, the Nuggets outscored them by a 32-16, while shooting 65 percent, and never looked back to grab a 54-51 lead at the half. The Nuggets’ defense became increasingly strong and their offense pulled away in the third. Gallo hit consecutive 3-pointers to start the second half, and Al Harrington closed the third with two straight threes to give Denver a 86-67 advantage into the final period.
The most dramatic moment of the evening came during the first minute of the third, when Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov squared up once again against his arch-nemesis Blake Griffin. Last season, Mozgov played for the New York Knicks and became the first poster-child of what has become Griffin’s extensive highlight-reel. On Thursday, it was Mozgov who made SportsCenter this time, scoring nine points and four rebounds while the Clippers shot a woeful 7-of-19 from the floor. And this time, Mozgov was determined not to get “Mozgov’d” again. As Griffin curled off a screen from CP3 and charged down the right edge of the lane, Mozgov met Griffin at the rim to challenge the dunk. Griffin’s attempted throw down clanked off the back of the rim and he was sent to the floor by a hard Mozgov foul, hitting his head on the way down. It was a statement foul in a statement game for the Denver Nuggets.
All five Clippers’ starters began the fourth on the bench, and although Paul returned within a couple minutes into the period, L.A. was trailing by 21 by then. Clippers’ head coach Vinny Del Negro pulled Paul a few minutes later and Mo Williams led the second unit, but they never posed a real threat. Denver native Chauncey Billiups, who played in his 1,000th NBA game, along with Denver’s Chauncey Billiups, scored 32 points with six 3-pointers on Sunday, and couldn’t find his rhythm on Thursday night. Billups finished just 2-for-9 for eight points and three assists against his old team. The Nuggets lead ballooned to 27 midway through the fourth as a stunned sellout crowd that seated Rihanna, Billy Crystal and Don Cheadle and retired Nuggets coach Dan Issel, filed out of Staples Center.
Thursday’s loss was not the way the Clippers wanted to set the tone for a six-game road trip, which starts Saturday at Washington. The loss dropped L.A.’s home record to 10-3 and their overall record to 13-7. Griffin led the Clippers with 18 points, five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal. CP3 finished with 15 points and nine assists and Caron Butler had 11 points after missing Wednesday night’s win at Utah with a sore lower back. Randy Foye contributed 17 points. Griffin and Paul became the first Clippers to start an All-Star game in 32 years (1976).
The Nuggets ended their three-game losing streak to the Clippers on Thursday. Gallinari lead the way 21 and starting point guard Ty Lawson added 18 points and six assists. Arron Afflalo, who drew the task of defending Paul, went 3-of-6 from the field and 8-for-8 from the foul line go finish with 15 points and two assists. Mozgov contributed 11 points and seven rebounds and Nene had with eight points, five rebounds and three assists. Guard Rudy Fernandez provided the spark off the bench with 10 points veteran point guard Andre Miller had eight points and eight assists in the win. Denver will stay in Los Angeles to face Kobe Bryant and the Lakers on Friday.