DENVER, CO – The Denver Nuggets put an ugly loss behind them with a statement win over a top-tier team.
Nikola Jokic had 20 points and 15 rebounds, and the Nuggets withstood a big rally to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 114-104 on Sunday night.
This bounce-back performance was just what they needed to soothe their psyche after a clunker the night before against a struggling Cleveland squad.
“We looked like a totally different team less than 24 hours later,” guard Monte Morris said.
The moral was easy to decipher: “We have to come to play against teams we're supposed to beat," Morris said. "Because we always show up against teams we know that can beat us.”
Trailing by as many 20 points in the second half, Los Angeles had pulled within six with 1:11 remaining when Patrick Beverley was called for a foul on Jokic. After the Nuggets big man made a pair of free throws, Clippers coach Doc Rivers argued with official Nick Buchert. He was given two technical fouls and tossed from the game. Jamal Murray hit both free throws to restore some much-needed breathing room.
“Listen, coaches can lose their composure, so can officials,” Rivers explained. “There's no way I should have been thrown out of the game.”
Rivers had simply reached his boiling point. He was still seething from a crucial call earlier in the quarter when Montrezl Harrell got whistled for an offensive charge when he stepped in front of Jerami Grant as Grant guarded Kawhi Leonard. The Clippers were in the midst of a 10-0 run at the time.
“The pick was solid,” Rivers said. “The bottom line is I shouldn't get a tech. That's No. 1. That's on me.”
Murray finished with 19 points and reserve Michael Porter Jr. provided a spark by scoring 13 for the Nuggets, who made their last field goal with 6:12 remaining. They went 9 of 10 on free throws from there.
The defensive standout of the game was Grant, who had two big blocks on Leonard.
“A couple of great blocks at the rim you don't see very often against Kawhi,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
Leonard finished with 30 points, while Lou Williams had 26 and Harrell added 25.
The Clippers played without star forward Paul George, who missed a second straight game with a strained left hamstring. Los Angeles dropped to 8-6 this season when George doesn't play.
This contest marked the first of three between two of the upper echelon teams in the Western Conference.
Gary Harris showed signs of breaking out of a shooting slump by scoring 15 points but didn't play late. He's been diligently working on his jumper after shooting 25.6% over his last four games. He was 5 of 9 against the Clippers.
“When he makes shots, the guys need to chase him and it's a little different story,” said Jokic, whose team led by as many as 20 points in the second half.
Denver had quite a sequence midway through the fourth when Will Barton blocked a shot and Jokic grabbed the rebound. He quickly threw it ahead to Barton, who then dished it off to Morris for a 3-pointer. Denver was up 18 and seemingly cruising along before the Clippers made things interesting down the stretch.
“The focus was there. The energy was there,” Jokic said. “It was a big victory for us.”
Clippers: George remained back in Los Angeles to receive more treatment on his hamstring. "We'll just keep evaluating," Rivers said when asked about an update. ... Considered day to day with a knee injury, F JaMychal Green played more than 17 minutes and scored two points.
Nuggets: F Paul Millsap missed a third straight game with a bruised left knee. ... The Nuggets outrebounded the Clippers. They're 18-2 when outrebounding a team. ... Morris finished with 12 points. ... Malone earned win No. 200 with the Nuggets.
SECOND QUARTER TAKEOFF
The tide turned in the second quarter when the Nuggets outscored the Clippers by a 37-22 margin. Harris scored 12 of his 15 points in the stretch.
“We played pretty consistent for three quarters,” Leonard said. “We've got to put all four together.”
Rivers said the 7-foot Jokic presents a difficult challenge given his versatility.
“Post-ups, he's great. Passing, he's great. Shooting, he's great," Rivers said. "Not a lot of weaknesses there. Just got to guard him hard.”
Clippers: Host Cleveland on Tuesday. Have won three in a row at home over the Cavaliers.
Nuggets: Close out a three-game homestand Wednesday against Charlotte.
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