J.R. Smith was streaking on the fast break, dribbling with his right hand and ready to throw down a momentum swinging jam. Smith’s dunk would have brought the Nuggets to 86-83 with only 4:33 remaining. Smith leapt and rocked the ball high up ready for the dunk, but he didn’t see Eric Bledsoe filling in from the offside rising. Impossibly, Bledsoe swatted the ball away, preventing the easy two but the referees whistling for the foul. The stands hollered and booed and when the replays came up on the jumbotron, the fans became even further enraged. It looked like a clean block.
“I knew it was a block,” said Eric Bledsoe after the game. “No doubt about it.”
As Rasheed Wallace would say, “ball don’t lie,” because J.R. promptly missed the first shot, seeming to validate Bledsoe’s play.
However, Bledsoe’s play tonight was much more than just the unfortunately whistled block. Truth is Bledsoe was a huge reason for the win, putting the team on his back and scoring 15 points in the final quarter. He finished with a career high 20 points on 7 for 11 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 7, yes, 7 steals. He had to offset the turnovers that he had in the first three quarters, but he more than made up for his poor play down the stretch.
His turn appeared to take at the end of the third quarter. The Clippers had come back to lead 68-63, but judging by the earlier run that the Nuggets made, no lead was safe. Gordon left the game in the second quarter when Timofey Mozgov hammered him, and the Nuggets had been making progress. The Nuggets charged from being down 44-29 with 5:07 in the second to being up 54-52 with 6:50 in the third. In ten minutes of playing time, the Nuggets had a 23-10 run. What was worse, was without Gordon in the lineup, the Clippers weren’t getting close shots, settling for long jumpers. And even though they battled back, the lead didn’t feel substantial. Going with the new pattern of the game, Randy Foye missed a long jumper. Bledsoe raced in and grabbed the offensive rebound, quickly brought the ball back out and before the Denver defense reset, Bledsoe found Foye open on the perimeter for an open three.
After gaining that momentum, check out what Bledsoe does in the fourth. Right out of the gate, Bledsoe swerved through traffic for an off-footed layup. Denver is down 8, looking to make a dent in the deficit, but Bledsoe rips Al Harrington in the open court and finds Al-Farouq Aminu on the wing and throws a beautiful alley-oop. Bledsoe laid low, before missing a three at the end of the shot clock. But that miss just started him back up again. Bledsoe ripped Harrington for a second time as the Clippers were only up 82-79, Harrington was so helpless that he fouled Bledsoe, who didn’t lose any steam and immediately scored on another layup. He did turn the ball that lead to J.R. Smith’s breakaway, but Bledsoe more than made up for it with his chasedown block/foul and the immediate layup response. He made another three (2 for 5 on the night). He pilfered Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton and to top it all off, he made 3 for 4 from the free throw line to ice the game.
Just to let you know, 18 points was Bledsoe’s career high and in the fourth quarter alone he scored 15 points and 5 steals. Amazing. “I’m proud of how we battled. Eric Bledsoe was the difference,” VDN said. “His activity was great, he was all over the place.”
- The Clippers won the first quarter 30-23 but the impressive play wasn’t due to the way the Clippers contained Nene. The team struggled mightily with the pick and roll with Lawson and Nene. DeAndre was forced to hedge on the screens because of Lawson’s speed and aptitude at getting to the basket, but that left Mo Williams trying to predict bounce passes and prevent them from getting to Nene. The Clippers switched Gordon onto Lawson early, in attempt to have a bigger body on Lawson, but the Nuggets still found ways for Nene to get great looks. Lawson, even without a screen, penetrates so well that DeAndre had to help out, only to let Nene get the pass and a jam. Lawson drove baseline on another drive only to kick it out to Kenyon who found Nene after the defense collapsed again.
- “He’ll be out, he’ll stay here.” Vinny gave the terrible news that Eric Gordon’s re-aggravated wrist will cost him at least the road trip and, judging from the severity of his voice, it could be longer.
- Blake had a career high 9 assists tonight, and almost earned his first triple double. The key was Blake finding players on the weak side. Although, his best highlight had to be his alley-oop pass to DeAndre Jordan.
- The Clippers won, but the ability for a team to get good looks down the stretch is frightening. Here’s just a list of the fourth quarter makes: Lawson layup, Anderson tip, Gary Forbes layup, Anderson tip, J.R. Smith layup, Nené layup, Nené jumper, Lawson layup, J.R. Smith foul shots (off dunk), Nené jumper, Lawson layup, Felton three, Lawson layup and the foul, Gary Forbes layup. That’s 10 makes that came around the basket. The Nuggets are good at getting to the rim, but that’s ridiculous. Clippers are lucky that Bledsoe’s monster fourth saved them.
- Bledsoe may have been the headline grabber, but don’t forget Mo Williams contributions. When the Clippers coughed up their lead in the third, Mo quickly answered with a long two and then an offensive rebound that led to his own 16 foot fadeaway from the elbow. Huge emotional lift. He scored 17 points, made 3 threes and handed out 5 assists. What I liked most was the quality of his shots improved greatly over the last few games.
- DeAndre and Kaman had good nights, especially on the defensive end, where they’re both needed most. The two combined for 7 blocks. However, the contrast in their play was particularly evident with only three minutes remaining in the first quarter. Mo and DeAndre were having trouble with Lawson and Nené on the pick and roll, but Kaman came in, and had a heady defensive stand against Nené. The Clippers raced out to the other end, only for Blake to throw a lob to Kaman that Kaman didn’t even attempt to dunk. The two players don’t seem like a choice right now, a coin is not made with just one side.
- Jamario had a fantastic block of Arron Afflalo in the open court. Not even off a screen or anything, just an isolation play at the top of the key. To finish it off, Jamario ran down the other end for a rim-rattling alley-oop. Seems to fit in with this team.
- The Clippers were out-rebounded by 19. 19!
- While the rebounding was terrible, the Clippers played very good defense tonight, holding the Nuggets to 39 percent shooting. The Clippers were at the strongest through the first two quarters, to no one’s surprise because Eric Gordon was on the court. At that point they had held the Nuggets to 33 percent shooting and, other than Nené’s easy looks, they forced the Nuggets into very tough shots.