Clippers foiled by old friends in loss to short-handed Nuggets – Orange County Register

LOS ANGELES — If the Clippers were ever going to end their long string of losses to the Denver Nuggets, this was their opportunity.

No Nikola Jokic. No Aaron Gordon. No Jamal Murray. Plus, the defending champions had struggled lately, going 5-5 over their previous 10 games.

It should have been easier than this.

Instead, the Clippers couldn’t hold off the Nuggets and lost, 113-104, on Monday night, in the third game of their five-in-seven-days stretch. Former Clippers Reggie Jackson (35 points, 13 assists) and DeAndre Jordan (21 points, 13 rebounds) fueled the depleted visitors down the stretch, combining for 20 points in the fourth quarter.

“Reggie Jackson plays really well against the Clippers,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “I challenge him to tell himself he’s playing the Clippers every time we play a game.”

As the winnable game slipped away, Clippers guard Russell Westbrook got into a verbal exchange with a courtside heckler with 30 seconds left to play. A referee and players from both teams came over to help diffuse the situation.

“The moment that line gets crossed, I won’t allow it no more. I stood for it for years,” said Westbrook, who has been the subject of disparaging comments throughout his career.

The point guard wouldn’t divulge what the fan said but added, “I’ve taken a lot from people saying anything and getting away with it. But I won’t stand for it.”

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue didn’t see the incident with Westbrook but saw plenty of other troubling situations in the team’s latest head-scratching performance. He said multiple times during his post-game comments that he takes “full responsibility” for the team’s poor play on offense and defense.

“I said (before the game), they were going to come in and play hard and compete,” Lue said. “Then, just tonight offensively, I just thought we were nasty offensively. Too slow. Too methodical and only taking 20 threes, not really getting to what we wanted to get into.”

Denver (12-6) had won 11 of its last 12 meetings against the Clippers, including the past eight. The Clippers (7-9) last beat the Nuggets on Jan. 11, 2022.

The Clippers had a solid chance to end that series skid on Monday. But Jackson began and ended a 22-6 spurt with 3-pointers that put the Nuggets ahead, 99-94. In between, he fed Jordan for two vicious dunks. The Clippers outscored the Nuggets 6-4 in a two-minute stretch late but couldn’t stop the Nuggets from scoring seven of the next nine points to clinch the victory.

“It’s a frustrating loss but it’s one of those games where guys get the opportunities, they play extremely well and I thought in the absence the guys stepped up over there,” Clippers star Paul George said. “But a lot of this stuff could have been prevented. I thought we didn’t have the energy there. It wasn’t well enough to compete.”

The Clippers were limited to four field goals in the fourth quarter, when they went 8 for 12 from the free-throw line. Westbrook airballed a free throw with the Clippers trailing 102-98. James Harden had two turnovers in the final minutes and George shot an airball in the closing seconds.

Lue said before the game his team needed to focus on the players on their side of the court and not the opponent. Jokic, the two-time league MVP who was listed as questionable earlier in the day because of back pain, was officially ruled out three hours before tip-off.

Murray missed his 11th consecutive game because of a hamstring injury and Gordon is dealing with a heel issue. Those three players average a combined 58.2 points.

“We’re not going to make it about who they’re playing (or not) because they’re still going to play hard, they’re going to compete and so we just got to be ready to play,” Lue said.

After an inconsistent first half, the Clippers found their rhythm behind the play of Kawhi Leonard and center Ivica Zubac in the second half.

Leonard scored 14 of his team-high 31 points and Zubac scored 12 of his 23 points (and had nine of his 14 rebounds) in the second half.

Jackson, in his first game against his former team since being traded last season, reminded the Arena crowd why he was always a fan favorite. After watching his tribute video, he went out and scored 18 first-half points, fueling a 20-5 run in the second quarter that turned an 11-point deficit into a four-point lead during a six-minute stretch. He finished the night 15 for 19 from the field.

“Definitely one of the sweeter ones,” Jackson said. “We got our main guys out and it was really great for the team, a resilient group, the way we came together. I was just proud of the way we kept battling.”

Jackson was quick to credit Jordan for his role in the win.

“I might have been the one that was the recipient of the points,” Jackson said, “but my old head DJ getting on the rim, being back in this building looking like young Lob City a little bit. He drew all the defense in and everybody was open on the weak side.”

Jordan, 35, who was drafted by and played 10 seasons with the Clippers, was dominant playing in place of Jokic. Jordan added five assists, two steals and one block to accompany his double-digit points and rebounds.

“Tonight the lob was there. We made them pay on different things,” Jordan said.

The Nuggets led 58-56 at halftime but the Clippers outscored the visitors 32-19 in the third as Harden (11 points) started to find the basket. Tied at 72-all, Zubac scored six in a row to spark a 17-5 run that was capped by Westbrook’s four straight points and sent the Clippers into the fourth leading 88-77.

Lue has talked about the sacrifices the team needs to make to win games. Lately, it’s been Leonard, who has seen his touches dip, or Harden, who, at times, has seemed hesitant to shoot. This time, it was fellow All-Star George.

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