LOS ANGELES, CA- Powered by a dominant 21-point, seven-rebound Tobias Harris performance, the Los Angeles Clippers earned a convincing 132-111 holiday victory over the No. 1 Western Conference-seeded Denver Nuggets.
Danilo Gallinari scored 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
“The goal was to push the ball because we knew that we could score points with our pace,” Gallinari said. “We were very motivated, like we are for every game, especially me and (Harris).”
Clippers first-year starting point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander contributed 14 points and Avery Bradley posted nine. Marcin Gortat grabbed 11 boards and Lou Williams added six points with seven assists.
“(Marcian) set the tone by being physical and then (Harrell) does what (Harrell) does,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “We had to attack their size by getting into the paint.”
Energizing power forward Montrezl Harrell provided his usual spark off the bench, chipping in 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Nikola Jokic, who leads the Nuggets in points, rebounds and assists, was ejected for shoving Gortat onto the floor and arguing with a referee midway through the third quarter. He still put up big numbers for Denver, scoring 19 points and snatching six rebounds. Jamal Murray added 18 points on 37.5 percent shooting. Trey Lyles supplied 13 bench points in 18 minutes. Monte Morris scored 15 points.
“We did a good job of getting in-front of Jokic and creating tough plays for him,” Harris said. “Once we got a stop, we just got out in transition and really push the pace which was key for us.”
The Clippers continue to play without defensive-minded forward Luc Mbah a Moute, who has missed much of the 2018-2019 season with an injured knee. Williams played his second consecutive game through an aggravated hamstring. Denver was without starting shooting guard Gary Harris and have missed Paul Millsap (foot), Will Barton (hip), lottery pick Michael Porter Jr. (back) and free agent pickup Isaiah Thomas (hip) for most to all of the regular season thus far.
Leading by 12, the Jokic third quarter ejection broke the game open for the Clippers. Four Harrell baskets increased the Clipper advantage to 17 points as the third quarter winded down. Monte Morris scored for the Nuggets soon after, but Patrick Beverley (12 points) banked in a runner as the third quarter buzzer sounded. The Clippers led 102-86 as fourth quarter action tipped off. The Clippers outscored Denver 29-25 in the fourth quarter to seal their 11th home win.
Tyrone Wallace scored six quick second quarter points off the bench. Gilgeous-Alexander scored to push the Clippers lead back to double digits. Juancho Hernangomez converted a left corner three-point shot and dunked off a Jokic dime one possession after for Denver. As time winded down in the second quarter, Murray milked the clock before pulling up and missing.
Harris drew a foul from beyond the arc with 0.4 seconds left and hit all three free throws to send the Clippers into halftime with a 68-59 lead. Harris was the game’s top first half scorer, pouring in 19 points. Jokic and Murray combined for 27 points through two quarters.
Rivers said, “I was frustrated at halftime because I felt like we should’ve been up more. I felt like we were playing better and the score was close.”
Both teams got off to hot starts. Bradley pulled up and scored on the game’s first possession. Jokic and Harris followed by trading 3-pointers. Gallinari drove baseline and slammed the ball down with two hands, but Murray responded by nailing a 3-pointer. After buckets from Harris and Gallinari gave the Clippers a 13-10 advantage nearly four minutes in, Denver used their first timeout.
Straight out of the timeout, Jokic faded and hit from the left baseline with Gortat in his face. Lyles tipped in a Nuggets miss under the rim to cut Denver’s deficit. Harris splashed a 3-pointer and Denver continued to struggle offensively, handing the ball right back to the Clippers with a traveling violation. Harrell rolled to the rim and dunked his first basket of the game, extending the Clippers early lead to 28-16.
Denver regained some momentum by ending the final three minutes of the first quarter on a 10-5 run. Lyles scored, hit one free throw and swatted Tyrone Wallace to end the quarter. Los Angeles led 34-26 after one. Harris scored 13 points in his first 11 minutes of play.
The Clippers improved to 19-13 overall and are now tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the fourth best record in the Western Conference. The Clippers have 4-7 record over their last 11 games. Denver falls to 21-10 and 8-7 on the road. The Nuggets have now lost each of their last three road games.
Blake Atwell is a multimedia journalist and sophomore at Santa Monica College.