LOS ANGELES — Down three starters, the Nuggets could ill afford to lose their star.
But Nikola Jokic’s temperature boiled over in the third quarter Saturday against the Clippers, and it cost the Nuggets in terms of both production and momentum. Los Angeles snapped the Nuggets’ four-game winning streak with a 132-111 win at the Staples Center, dropping Denver to 21-10.
A win would have marked the franchise’s best start over 31 games in their NBA history.
Jokic, frustrated over a call on Clippers forward Marcin Gortat, snapped at officials with 6:38 left in the third quarter and was immediately ejected. Juancho Hernangomez tried to cover Jokic’s mouth and coach Michael Malone did his best to calm him down, but Jokic was ousted with 19 points and the Nuggets facing an 81-70 deficit. The Clippers immediately seized momentum and scored 22 points to close the quarter, taking a 103-86 lead into the fourth.
The Clippers poured it on the in the final quarter, and the Nuggets, turning to their reserves, had no answers. All told, the Clippers outscored the Nuggets 80-50 in the paint and dominated the rebounding 56-37. Forwards Tobias Harris (21), Danilo Gallinari (21) and Montrezl Harrell (20) combined for 62 points as the Clippers shot 57 percent from the field. Jamal Murray added 18 points on 6 for 16 shooting, but the Nuggets’ offense sputtered most of the second half.
Earlier in the second quarter Jokic jawed at officials after getting an and-1 call on a putback layup. Jokic, who took just three free throws, was apparently frustrated at the lack of whistles coming his direction.
Heading into the game, Malone expected this type of effort from the Clippers.
“They’re coming off of a very tough schedule,” Malone said. “They’re a lot better than I think their record indicates. They have not had many home games. They’ve been on the road quite a bit.”
Despite the ejection, Jokic is still tracking to become a first-time all-star. Entering Saturday he was nearly averaging a triple-double in December.
“I think definitely he’s an all-star,” Malone said. “For him to have the numbers he has, really, I don’t know many guys that have ever had those types of numbers as a center in the NBA. But nothing surprises me in the NBA, nothing surprises me. If he doesn’t make it, the great thing about Nikola is, that’ll sting, we’ll all be upset and hurt by it, but it doesn’t get in the way of what our team goals are.”
Saturday was a rematch of the Nuggets’ opening-night victory, but Clippers coach Doc Rivers said there was a marked difference between the two versions of Denver’s squad 30 games into the season.
“They believed that they were going to have a good year coming into it,” Rivers said. “And then they went out and did it, so now they believe it. There’s a difference between believing and believing. They believe now. And they’re at that point now, it really doesn’t matter who they have on the floor. That’s how confident they have become.”
Source: “Los Angeles” – Google News