Clippers' comeback comes up just short in loss to Denver Nuggets

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is pressured by Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard during the first half of an NBA basketball in-season tournament game Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

The Clippers are not without conviction they will turn around their season.

They are, however, still without a victory to show for their roster-altering trade.

Two weeks since acquiring James Harden and P.J. Tucker from Philadelphia, the Clippers lost their sixth consecutive game Tuesday in Denver, a 111-108 defeat that wasn’t decided until a scramble for possession after a jump ball with two seconds left.

It was the Clippers’ fifth loss in a row since Harden joined the lineup, with the team now 3-7 overall and 0-2 in in-season tournament games.

Two days after losing at home to the Memphis Grizzlies, who entered with the NBA’s worst record, they rallied from 13 points down to lead reigning champion Denver, which was off to one of the league’s most authoritative starts, by seven at the fourth quarter’s midway point — in an arena they had not won in since December 2020.

Read more: Elliott: Clippers want James Harden to lead, but progress has been slow

It was a comeback earned by finally producing a glimpse into why the franchise had remained confident despite its nightmare start. Their starters, whose spacing and pace was balky for the previous week, finally gained rhythm to open the second half, and then their small-ball lineup proved effective for a second consecutive fourth quarter, even facing Nuggets star Nikola Jokic. Paul George, who had searched for the right level of assertiveness since the trade, scored 35 points, with 12 in the fourth quarter.

Kawhi Leonard made five of his 14 shots for 15 points.

Coach Tyronn Lue’s belief in the team’s long-range potential is rooted in Harden, who produced an up-and-down performance that was his finest as a Clipper — 21 points in 36 minutes — but also saw him go scoreless in the fourth quarter while attempting only one field goal.

Harden, George and Leonard were all on the court when a lineup with immense offensive talent went five minutes without a field goal in the second quarter. Yet without Harden, the Clippers wouldn’t have erased their eight-point halftime deficit to enter the fourth quarter tied, with Harden scoring 10 points in the third quarter as part of a starting lineup that finally looked comfortable together. Entering the fourth, he’d also committed just one turnover in his 30 minutes.

Read more: Winless since James Harden trade, Clippers preach patience but struggle for progress

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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