Two in a row over contenders: 5 takeaways from the Clippers’ win over the Nuggets

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard drives against Nuggets guard Jamal Murray as forward PJ Dozier prepares to help on Friday.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Despite losing Kawhi Leonard for the last six minutes of Friday’s fourth quarter after a scary moment and lots of blood, the Clippers improved to 2-0 by holding off Denver’s late charge to win their first road game this season, 121-108.

Leonard received eight stitches for his lacerated mouth, according to the team, after being accidentally elbowed in the left side of his face by teammate Serge Ibaka midway through the fourth quarter while both were attempting to grab a rebound.

After initially staying down on the court while trainers evaluated him, Leonard walked to the locker room under his own power, and coach Tyronn Lue said he believed the star forward would be “fine.”


The Clippers will not practice before Sunday’s matchup against Dallas at Staples Center, allowing Leonard more time to rest ahead of a potential return.

“I think he’s good,” Clippers forward Nicolas Batum said after the game. “I just met him and saw him in the locker room; he was OK, and that was kind of scary at the moment.”

Here are five takeaways from Friday’s game:

1. The Clippers have beaten each of last season’s Western Conference finalists to open the season by jumping out to big leads, then holding on after the Lakers and Nuggets each attempted to rally. It’s a notable start for a team whose last season ended precisely because of an inability to show such resolve.

“It’s pretty early to make any conclusion on both sides on both teams or if we win or lose the game but still very encouraging,” Batum said. “We all know what happened last year, and know we got a big lead and sometimes we have to keep playing the right way, and I think so far we learned that.

“Especially tonight, they made a run and we lost Kawhi so we could maybe, like, [have] lost our composure and lost our game. But we took a good timeout, we ran some good plays, we kept moving the ball, we didn’t stop the play.”

Paul George said the Clippers were “a ways away” from being comfortable with one another in their offensive and defensive schemes but called the start a reflection of progress.


“We are just playing from start to finish,” he said. “That is what the biggest takeaway is. We are playing from the time the ball is tipped up to the time there are zeroes all across the board. We are going to have lapses, and that’s where we will clean up, but overall we are playing a full game.”

2. The Clippers were careless when it came to fouling against Denver. Ibaka, Patrick Beverley and Patrick Patterson each had three fouls at halftime, and Batum and Ivica Zubac each had two.

Batum and Beverley finished with five apiece while Zubac, Leonard and Ibaka each had four. It was yet another instance in which Beverley was unable to stay out of early foul trouble, playing just three first-quarter minutes after drawing two whistles. Players and coaches often feel that officials are more apt to call a tighter game early in the season in an attempt to set a tone, and that the whistles are often relaxed as the season progresses. That might be the case, but Beverley’s foul trouble was prevalent in the postseason, as well.

3. It will be interesting to track how the Clippers use Batum once injured forward Marcus Morris (sore knee) reclaims his starting role. Coming off his worst season in Charlotte, Batum has personified steadiness since the regular season began and repaid the Clippers’ faith in his ability to make plays for others.

Upon being waived by the Hornets in November, Batum saw the Clippers as his best fit because he believed he could complement the team’s primary scorers with his passing. He did that Friday, with four assists and 10 rebounds in addition to 13 points.

“I don’t really care about what I’m doing, actually,” Batum said. “I just want to be sure the other guys are in a good position to be successful. I’ve been that way my whole career.

“That’s just the way I see the game and play the game for myself, so when you got three guys who can score 20, 25 points a night, maybe more with Kawhi, PG and Lou [Williams], it’s easy for me to play that role because I don’t have to put pressure on myself.”

4. So long as the core of each team’s roster remains, the Clippers and Nuggets will continue to be linked because of the improbable finish of their meeting in last postseason’s second round, when Denver overcame a 3-1 lead by the Clippers and double-digit deficits to win the final three games of the seven-game series. The loss created embarrassment for, and fallout within, the Clippers’ organization, but the “revenge” storyline was consistently downplayed publicly by the Clippers before and after the matchup.

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“I kind of buried last year, left last year in the bubble; [the win] did nothing,” said George, who has averaged 28 points per game to open this season after scoring 23 against the Nuggets. “Fact is, this is a new season. A new team. New goals. New everything. It did nothing. I buried that, I was ready and poised and confident coming into this year and prepared coming into the season.”

5. Denver center Nikola Jokic wasn’t the one-man wrecking crew he was in September against the Clippers during the playoffs.

The Clippers won the matchup handily Friday, outscoring Denver by 20 points during the 38 minutes Jokic played, even though he finished with 24 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, and got to the free-throw line 11 times.

Jokic’s impact, as measured by plus/minus, stood in stark contrast to his effectiveness during the postseason against the Clippers, when he feasted on the matchup against undersized center Montrezl Harrell, in particular. With Jokic on the floor Denver outscored the Clippers by 3.3 points per game in last season’s playoffs.