As Kobe and Co. took care of business in Dallas, the other Staples Center tenants, the Los Angeles Clippers, held down the fort in a 103-95 victory over the listless Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
On a night when the injury-riddled Nuggets were without Nene (calf), Danilo Gallinari (ankle), Ty Lawson (ankle), Rudy Fernandez (back) and Chris “The Birdman” Andersen (knees), Lob City should have won with ease and rested their starters. Instead, Denver’s J.V. squad turned up the pressure, sped up the pace and ran at every opportunity. The teams had split their first two meetings, with the Nuggets winning 112-91 nearly three weeks ago, and this time Aaron Afflalo (20 points) and Al Harrington (11 points) came close to stealing another one on the road.
The Nuggets competed for 48 minutes and forced the Clippers’ All-Star starters of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to endure heavy minutes in their final game before the duo headed east to Orlando. It appeared as if the Clippers were on the way to losing their third consecutive game, but as has been the case all season, CP3 came to the rescue. He finished with a season-high 36 points on 11-of-16 shooting, all which came after the first quarter, nine dimes and two steals to help maintain the Clippers control over the Pacific Division.
As has become the norm since the Paul trade, last night’s contest had all the “ShowTime” the Clippers have become accustomed to. Lob City was in full affect. At the start of the third quarter, Paul assisted Griffin with three consecutive dunks, including the highlight of the night where the two-time All-Star took a step from the free-throw line then rose above three Nuggets defenders –with his favorite victim Timofey Mozgov in tow- and his outstretched arm threw down a ruthless slam. But despite all the razzle-dazzle, L.A. wasn’t able to completely put away the depleted Nuggets. Griffin and Paul combined for 24 points in the quarter, before CP3 took full control over the game. He scored 17 straight points in the waning minutes of the third, and into the start of the fourth, to push the Clippers ahead for good and to snap their two-game losing streak. Griffin finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds.
The Los Angeles Clippers will enter the All-Star break with momentum. They improve their record to 20-11 and stay a game ahead of the Lakers in the Pacific standings. Griffin and Paul addressed the sellout Staples Center crowd before the game. “We’re going to go down to Orlando and try to make you guys proud,” Paul said, as Griffin thanked the fans for their support in the Clippers best start since the 1974-75 season.