DENVER (AP)—The Denver Nuggets realized two things Friday: They got away with one the night before and they’re sure it won’t happen again.
The Nuggets were outshot by the Los Angeles Clippers for the third straight game, missed everything they threw up from 3-point range and watched star Carmelo Anthony again have trouble deciphering double teams.
Yet, their 94-87 win over the Los Angeles Clippers snapped a six-game skid and allows them the opportunity to tie their best-of-seven series Saturday night at the Pepsi Center.
“It was nice to get a win when we didn’t play well,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “I think we are going to have to play better and harder than we did Thursday to win Saturday.”
The Nuggets weren’t the only ones who had an ugly game. The Clippers turned the ball over two dozen times, were whistled for 40 fouls and failed to capitalize on the absence of Denver forward Kenyon Martin, who was suspended indefinitely for insubordination earlier in the week.
The unheralded trio of Reggie Evans, Eduardo Najera and Francisco Elson contained power forward Elton Brand (6-of-15 shooting) and center Chris Kaman, who’s hobbled by a tender ankle and scored just two points.
The Clippers aren’t flummoxed, however.
“We just have a small amount to correct,” Sam Cassell said. “Offensive rebounds and turnovers are the reasons why we lost the game. It was what we did to ourselves that hurt us. Once we correct that we will have success.
“It’s not rocket science. Take care of the basketball. It’s grammar school.”
The Nuggets turned a 13-5 edge on the offensive glass into a 19-7 advantage in second-chance points and converted 24 takeaways into a 19-7 bulge in fast-break points.
“We have to cut our turnovers down and box out,” Brand said. “It’s that simple.”
After two physical games in Los Angeles, the Clippers were clearly caught off-guard by the nearly 70 whistles that were blown by Dick Bavetta’s crew in Game 3.
“There were a lot of fouls called,” Cassell said. “There must have been a lot of fouls committed.”
Anthony called it an ugly win, but Karl isn’t sure it’s going to get much prettier.
“I said to the team you don’t have to win all seven of them. You just have to win four,” Karl said.
The Nuggets aren’t getting any style points because they’ve lacked cohesion all year due to injuries and the learning curve of newcomers Evans and Ruben Patterson, who came over in a deadline deal.
Karl wonders how anybody could expect anything pretty right now.
“When you have Ruben Patterson and Reggie Evans out there? When you don’t know what play to run, just let them play? Let them go into the backyard, lower the fence and let the dogs go do it,” Karl said.
The Nuggets have yet to shoot better than 40 percent in this series.
“I think this series we’ve spent too much time talking about what we have to do rather than just playing,” Karl said. “That’s why the last couple of game plans have been simpler. Trying to do little things rather than saturate the brain. I’ve always felt in the playoffs there is a balance between giving them too much information. We have so much information. We have a 280-page book on the LA Clippers.”
And one thing the Clippers do well—keeping it to a half-court game—is difficult to counter.
“It’s much more difficult to run in the playoffs,” where opponents come up with detailed plans to take away the Nuggets’ fast break, forcing them to shoot lower-percentage shots.
The Nuggets, however, have decided they’re simply not going to fret over their offensive woes anymore.
“We can’t worry about our shooting,” Greg Buckner said. “Defense is much more important right now.”
And that’s what saved Denver in Game 3.
“The scoring will come,” guard Earl Boykins insisted. “The most important part of the playoffs is your defense. We are playing well on defense. You win games on defense.”
Even if it isn’t pretty.