The return of Bones Hyland to Ball Arena on a gorgeous Sunday brought the Mile High crowd out as rivals in the West would clash for the fourth time this season when the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Clippers tangled on ESPN in front of a national television audience. Jamal Murray and Hyland, now a member of the Clippers, shared an extended embrace mid-court before the game. So it looks like any hard feelings there may have been between them have subsided. The Clips were hungry for a win against Denver, something that has eluded them in their previous three matchups this season.
The Nuggets welcomed back Aaron Gordon to the starting lineup with open arms after seeing AG sit for the previous five contests with a rib issue. He had been a Clippers killer in their last three meetings and picked up the sword once again, feeding Jokic in the paint and keeping the floor spaced on offense while nabbing a few boards.
The Nuggets wiped the floor with the Clippers early on, but Kawhi Leonard would put an end to a 20-4 Nuggets run with a sweet and-one drive to the basket. Los Angeles is pesky defensively, and showed Denver they weren’t going to back down, but the Nuggets bench responded with decisive shots from Reggie Jackson and Vlatko Cancar. To the chagrin of Mile High Basketball fans, Bones Hyland would crank up a three-pointer and Kawhi Leonard would match with one of his own as Los Angeles fought to within 10. Denver was nails coming out of the timeout at 2:18 and would take a 35-22 lead into the second thanks to Jamal Murray.
The Blue Arrow was dipped in hot wax to begin the game from outside, going 3-for-7 from distance. Denver’s ability to cash in from the three-point line would keep their lead comfortable for the time-being. Jokic continued to make effortless plays inside and generate easy looks for himself and Aaron Gordon. Hyland remained a nuisance, talking to the Nuggets bench after a made three and flexing for the fans after a drive to the basket.
The Clips showed resiliency and good defense like we are used to seeing from them, forcing turnovers and tough shots at a consistent rate. Jokic was the difference-maker, however, racking up 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists all in the first half of play. We hit halftime with your score 66-58 in favor of the Nuggets.
The Clippers’ toughness caught the Nuggets off-guard to begin the second half. A gritty Paul George drive to the hoop and a Kawhi Leonard banger off the glass forced head coach Michael Malone to burn a time out at the 9:23 mark with Denver only up four. MPJ’s smooth stroke put Mile High Basketball fans at ease as he cashed in a three and drew a Russell Westbrook flagrant to boot.
Big Honey is becoming an unstoppable force for Denver, showing off his rebounding prowess and top-notch basketball instincts to keep the Nuggets humming offensively. We are so spoiled with the discovery of Jokic and get to watch his game grow right in front of our eyes. He is becoming Shaq-like with his inevitable scoring and glass-cleaning abilities.
Denver’s discipline was tested throughout, and Los Angeles caught them sleeping a few times with some converted and-one opportunities by Leonard and George. Aaron Gordon’s technical foul with 5:03 left in the third showed the Nuggets were getting frustrated with the Clippers’ bullish style. The lead was cut to five again before another quick Michael Malone time out at the 4:34 mark. Jokic and Porter Jr. would combine to keep Denver’s boat afloat as the fourth quarter approached, earning tough points in the paint. 97-88 Denver at the end of the third after a thrilling air-ball from Bones Hyland.
You could feel the energy intensify as the fourth quarter began. Thomas Bryant gave Mason Plumlee everything he could handle while Jokic sat and Reggie Jackson continued to leave much to be desired as the backup point guard. Mascot Rocky hit his patented half-court shot on military appreciation night and the vibes started pouring in. Awkward exchanges between Plumlee and Bryant set the tone for a physical finish as Plumlee was tagged with a flagrant at 9:49 remaining.
Nikola Jokic finally returned to the game with 8:28 left and the Nuggets would need him at his best. Reggie Jackson came up big with a prayer from the corner and Jamal Murray put his dog face on and charged hard to the basket for a tough two against Plumlee. Aaron Gordon’s injuries wouldn’t keep him from being a factor, as he would snag a lob from Jokic and force the Clips to call a time out with 6:20 left and the Nuggets up five.
The Clippers forced Denver to work hard for everything they got, pressing the issue and confusing the usually reliable Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic connection. Kawhi Leonard’s ability to get to the free-throw line was on full display and Paul George would give the Nuggets fits as well. Big Honey would step up in the clutch again, hitting a fading shuffle over Mason Plumlee and getting to the line with just over two minutes remaining. The Claw would tighten his grip with exceptional buckets and concentration down the stretch. With under a minute left, the Nuggets challenged a foul called on KCP for hacking Plumlee and lost, sending Plumlee to the line with the game tied at 117. Insanity would ensue, with a missed Plumlee free throw leading to a disastrous Nuggets possession that forced Jamal Murray to heave from half-court. A lucky rebound and hard work led to an icy MPJ three for the lead with under 30 seconds remaining. Paul George’s desperation heave landed, but not in time as this heated game would go into overtime tied at 120.
Jokic and Murray would take over in OT, adding a splash of MPJ from downtown to douse the Clippers’ flame in the crunch. Jokic’s game-high 40 points would buoy the Nuggets down the stretch. Jokic’s game just keeps getting better and better in front of our eyes. Final score 134-124 Nuggets win. Next up for Denver is the Houston Rockets on the road on Tuesday.