The Denver Nuggets took the court on the second night of a back-to-back severely shorthanded, missing Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon.
The defending NBA champions were forced to rely on former Los Angeles Clippers in Reggie Jackson and DeAndre Jordan and they proved to be ready for the moment.
Jackson finished with a season-high 35 points and 13 assists, and Jordan also added a season-high 21 points and 13 rebounds in the Nuggets’ 113-104 victory over the Clippers on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena.
“When you can win games like this with some of your best players out, that speaks to your depth but also the belief in one another,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Tonight was special.”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Justin Holiday both added 12 points apiece for Denver (12-6).
“Definitely one of the sweeter ones,” said Jackson after the win. “We got our main guys out and it was really great for the team, a resilient group, the way we came together. I was just proud of the way we kept battling.”
Kawhi Leonard tallied a team-high 31 points for the Clippers (7-9) and Ivica Zubac recorded a double-double with 23 points and 14 rebounds. Paul George battled foul trouble in the second half and finished with only six points on 2-of-13 shooting.
“It’s a frustrating loss,” George said. “The guys stepped up over there, but a lot of the stuff we could have prevented. I thought just the energy there wasn’t well enough to compete.”
Russell Westbrook recorded 14 points and 11 rebounds off the bench while James Harden added 11 points for Los Angeles.
The Clippers led 42-31 in the second quarter after Norman Powell converted two free throws but the Nuggets ended the period on a 27-14 run to take a 58-56 halftime lead.
Los Angeles outscored Denver 32-19 in the third quarter while retaking an 11-point advantage, 88-77 into the fourth but it was the Nuggets who caught fire in the final period.
“We were nasty offensively, too slow, too methodical. I take full responsibility for offense and defensively as well,” said Clippers coach Ty Lue.
Jackson and Jordan combined to score 20 of the Nuggets 36 points in the fourth as the Clippers converted only four field goals during the final 12 minutes of the game.
Jordan flushed home an alley-oop dunk and Jackson hit a three-pointer to give Denver a 99-94 lead with 5:11 to play.
“Reggie just did a great job putting pressure on in the pick-and-roll, and DeAndre is one of the best still at getting out slipping and playing above the rim. They just had it working tonight,” George said.
Westbrook missed two free throws with the Clippers trailing 102-98 with less than three minutes to play and Harden turned the ball over twice in the final minute of the game.
“Like I said, it’s going to be a process,” added Westbrook on the Clippers stars all learning to play together.