LOS ANGELES – Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said just before Tuesday’s unlikely low-scoring thriller that the biggest thing he learned about his guys halfway through this season is that they can handle adversity: “When you go through hard times, just be kind. the character of who people are, and we’ve done a good job of trying to keep it down. ”
After a frustrating, frost-bitten first half Tuesday night, the Clippers had scored a low point in the NBA season with 28 points. They were in a 25-point gap against the Denver Nuggets with seven minutes left of the third quarter. And yes, understaffed as usual.
And would you not know it, they managed it and won 87-85.
Dating to 1997-98, Tuesday’s 25-point comeback victory is a draw for the fourth biggest in the team’s history, the off-season included.
It was the Nuggets’ game with the lowest score this season, and it was the lowest number of a Clippers opponent this year.
Reggie Jackson, most notably, had a demonstrably negative game as he put three consecutive buckets together to give the Clippers a 76-75 lead.
His fourth move was a thump on reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic – just Jackson’s second slam this season. Dunken reduced Denver’s lead to 79-78 and made fans forget about Jackson’s 1-on-9 shot start and start singing his name again, as they had during the Clippers’ run-up to the Western Conference final last season.
No one shouted his name in LA, but Aaron Gordon certainly had fans left in Colorado cheering with his 30 points, 13 of which came in the fourth quarter when Denver (20-19) beat the Clippers.
But back-to-back 3-pointers from Amir Coffey (18 points) and Nicolas Batum (six points) gave the Clippers their biggest lead to date, 86-81.
Then Marcus Morris Sr. made a free kick and blocked Gordon and Nikola Jokic.
A missed 3-pointer by Jokic and a missed lift at the last second from Gordon settled it.
Jokic finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists – his ninth double-double in a row and the 15th time in 16 games that he reached the threshold of 20 points.
The Clippers (21-21) were without Luke Kennard, who missed his sixth game in protocol – and Justise Winslow, who missed her second. Add to that: No Kawhi Leonard (ACL), Paul George (elbow), Isaiah Hartenstein (ankle) or Jason Preston (foot).
The Clippers fought early: They went into the break back 41-28 – their numbers represented the lowest score in the first half of an NBA game this season. It is also the fewest points in the first half since the Clippers scored 27 in their 51-point loss to Dallas last season.
(But those were not the fewest points in the first half of the league’s history – that record belongs to the Clippers from 1999, who only mustered 19 points during the break of a game against the Lakers.)
Among the sad stories: Starting center Ivica Zubac played just five minutes in the first half, scoring two points, scoring three errors and getting hit in the head by the ball twice.
Jackson was 1 for 9 and 0 for 3 from the 3-point range – and a team-worst minus-14 in the boxing score – after 17 first-half minutes.
And Morris was called a Flagrant 1 when his forearm was connected to Austin Rivers’ neck area – and Rivers, fittingly for how things went on Tuesday, both missed penalty throws.
Rivers – the former Clipper and son of former coach Doc Rivers – played despite experiencing an allergic reaction that sent him to the hospital while training with teammates at UCLA on Monday.
“We were in the gym at UCLA, training, optional shooting, and he just had an allergic reaction,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, noting that the cause of the reaction remained a mystery. “And it was a little scary for him and those around us. He was in the hospital for a while, he was released last night, and luckily he was able to get up today, feel much better, go through the shootround. “Thank God he’s much better.”
A game after he had the season-best 22 points and six 3-pointers in Denver’s 99-95 win over Oklahoma City, Rivers had four points and five rebounds against the Clippers on Tuesday.
Still, despite shooting only 12 for 44 (27.3%) from the field and 1 for 14 from 3-point range, the Clippers benefited from an almost equally bad early offensive show from Denver, which went into the break after to have shot 16 for 43 (37.2)%) from the floor and 2 for 16 from the deep.
So the Clippers were only 13 points behind as they entered the third quarter, a deficit that would rise to 25 minutes later.
Terance Mann helped ignite a rally – and the crowd of 15,077 – after the hosts trailed 59-34.
The Clippers started on a 21-3 run to reduce the lead to 62-55, limited by Coffey’s high difficulty and made mistakes over defenders at the edge.
Mann played all 12 minutes of the third period, shooting 4 to 6 and scoring nine of his 13 points thereafter to help kickstart the Clippers, who scored 27 points in the third quarter, a shy of all their efforts in the first half.
There’s more to come in this story.