For the first time since 2011, the Los Angeles Clippers failed to make playoffs following a crushing 134-115 defeat to the Denver Nuggets in a must-win game for both teams Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers walked into the media room minutes after the loss and expressed his feelings towards the media about his team that had been injury-depleted all season long.
Rivers wholeheartedly wanted to lead Los Angeles into the playoffs, but on the 80th game of the season, the Clippers surely realized they were simply outmanned by a younger and more talented Denver team who is now tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, with only two more games remaining.
“I’ve never been more proud of a team that didn’t make the playoffs,” Rivers said. “This team has been through so much all year. So many more things that people do not know.”
Rivers continued and expressed how difficult it was depending on G-League players, due to the fact that they weren’t even able to practice with the team at times due to trying to maximize their time in real-game play.
“You know our 45-day guys have been exceptional all year and most of the days that they were with us, they couldn’t practice because we are trying squeeze the days out of them. You think about a rookie that is playing on an NBA team that can’t even be in the gym when his team is practicing and then the next night we fly him on a commercial flight and he has to get off the plane and then go play in an NBA game. That is the stuff that this team has done all year, and yet somehow, we kept our heads above water.”
Two-way contract player and Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario G-League standout, Tyrone Wallace added 18 points on the night and has been leaned on heavily in his 28 games played this year averaging 10 points per game, as point guards Milos Teodosic and Patrick Beverley combined to miss 104 games on the year.
Los Angeles was also without the services of forward Danilo Gallinari, as well as guards Avery Bradley and Jawun Evans for a good portion of the season.
“Four or five of your starters, from the beginning of the year, have been out most of the year and yet we kept winning,” Rivers said. “You know I have gotten a lot of credit, but I’m telling you it is the guys. It is them. They have been so easy to coach, and so it is easy for coaches to look good when you have a bunch of guys that are easy to coach. And that was this group.”
One of the guys Rivers was referring to was Lou Williams, who led the Clippers with 24 points off the bench, as the others were DeAndre Jordan with 16 points and 17 rebounds and Tobias Harris, who added 16 points, respectively.
For the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic boasted his ninth triple-double of the season with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, while Will Barton was the high-scorer for Denver with 31 points on a very efficient shooting night, making 11-of-15 field goals.
“I just wanted to be aggressive from the start and put pressure on their defense,” Barton said. “Once I did that, I figured out what I could get, whether I was getting to the rim, pull-up jumpers and pull-up threes. Once I got into a rhythm, I just figured out what they were trying to do and tried to exploit it.”
Nuggets coach Mike Malone has certainly gotten the job done with his young playoff-hungry roster thus far, as Denver has been peeking at the right time in early April.
“We’re playing get it done basketball,” Malone said. “We’re getting it done.”
“Right now, for us, we’re finding ways to get the job done. We’re making enough plays… Improbable wins against at OKC and Milwaukee. Tough, grind it out games against Milwaukee and Minnesota. Tonight, we kind of held the lead throughout.”
The Denver Nuggets hopes of extending their season will ultimately come down to two pivotal games against Western Conference foes this week in the Portland Trail Blazers Monday night and Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night.
Two wins and the Nuggets will have clinched the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, something they have not been able to do in the last five years.
“We knew what we had to do this time,” Barton said. “We knew what was at stake. We couldn’t let that happen again with our season on the line. We weren’t gonna go out like that.”