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Clippers’ Reggie Jackson, Nicolas Batum reveal secret to 25-point comeback vs. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Nikola Jokic, Reggie Jackson, Nicolas Batum, Nuggets, Clippers

LOS ANGELES – It was a night that started out as the worst half of basketball all season. It ended in absolute mayhem as Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum led the LA Clippers past Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.

The Clippers scored just 28 points in the first half, their lowest since scoring 27 against the Dallas Mavericks last year in the game they lost by 51. LA shot 12-of-44 from the field, including 1-of-14 from beyond the three-point arc. They were also outrebounded 35-18 in the first half, including 7-1 on the offensive glass.

Somehow, they were only down 13 at halftime as the Nuggets managed just 41 points of their own through the first two quarters.

Tuesday was a grind, with head coach Tyronn Lue searching for a lineup that could do something, anything, to get a run going.

“I was just trying to find combinations,” Lue admitted after the game. “You know, at that point when you score 16 points and 12 points [in the first two quarters]. I mean, it wasn’t Eric’s fault. It was just trying to find a combination that worked. And we’ve been good about — coaching staff has been good about — finding combinations that work, that kind of play together and play the right way. Some nights your stars are not going to have it, and we saw that tonight. I thought Zu and Marcus were a little slow, Marcus could be a little tired. And then our bench guys came in and gave us a good lift. So that’s winning basketball, so that’s what we need to do every night on a night to night basis.”

The Clippers started the third quarter allowing an 18-6 run, going down 59-34 with seven minutes left in the quarter. At that point, Lue elected to pull Reggie Jackson and Ivica Zubac, channeling the playoff lineups to go small with Nicolas Batum at the center position alongside Eric Bledsoe, Terance Mann, Amir Coffey, and Marcus Morris.

“I think in the third quarter we tried to do that and we missed some shots and the game kind of got away from us you know being down 25 And then we went small,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue added. “I think Nico did a great job with Joker just trying to deny home, switching one through five kind of hurt them a little bit and then we decided we was gonna make somebody beat us besides Joker. And we did that, made their guys shoot outside shots, and they shot 4-for-33 tonight. Gordon’s cuts hurt us, you saw that, but outside of that, I thought we did a great job of just, you know, taking away Joker, switching one through five, letting our smalls play him, get up under him and then fire at the right time and the team did a good job of adjusting.”

For Nicolas Batum, it was nothing new. The French Army Knife spent all of the postseason watching Draymond Green and Boris Diaw film. He started games against the Dallas Mavericks’ twin towers of Kristaps Porzingis and Boban Marjanovic in the first round series that went to seven games. He then started games against Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, a series which went six games.

“That’s huge,” Batum said of the Clippers playoff experience being a factor. “That’s huge, as you said, we were in the same situation against the Jazz and the was pretty much the same type of game. In the second half, defense, then we start running and we’re sharing the ball. Reggie Jackson stepped up, Bled stepped up, Amir has been unbelievable the last couple games. You know, Brandon did a good job, I think Serge tonight in the second half tried to be more physical with Nikola Jokic, make him work, get into it.

“Aaron Gordon had a great game, we lost him a couple times. He had 30 points tonight, but other than that, that’s a good win. Huge win. Huge win, so we didn’t give up. We could give up with 28 points in the first half, down 25 points in the 3rd. You can easily give up. No, we keep fighting. We find a way, cut it to 10 and we got a game. And then the way we start the 4th, we cut it to four points and now it could go either way, the crowd gets into it. I think the crowd had fun tonight, especially in the second half. Not in the first half for sure, but I think they got some fun in the second half, so that’s good for us.”

The Clippers role players collectively came together to get the team back into the game. An occasional zone defense threw the Nuggets off their game, and a double-team to make anyone but Nikola Jokic beat them worked.

In the end, it was Reggie Jackson’s fourth quarter heroics that completed the comeback for the team that’s now won consecutive games for the first time in a month.

Jackson entered the fourth quarter shooting just 1-of-9 from the field, struggling mightily on both ends of the floor. He checked into the game with about seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, knocked down a floater to beat the shot clock buzzer, and that’s when it clicked.

The first one went in and I was like, ‘Oh, crap, the lid might’ve came off,'” Reggie Jackson recalls telling himself.
“Second one, my saying is one-shot hot, so it went in, and the second pull-up went in and then I was like OK, starting to feel good. And I think the three went in and I was like, all right, we’re rolling, don’t look back, just play, enjoy and have fun.”

Jackson put up 11 points in the final frame on 4-of-6 shooting, but also had a crucial dime to Nicolas Batum for a clutch three-pointer with under two minutes remaining.

One of those four field goals was a rim-shaking dunk on the league’s reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.

The Clippers were able to hold on from there, narrowly escaping after Nikola Jokic’s game-winning three-point attempt bounced off the front of the rim and Aaron Gordon’s midair catch-and-shoot off the rebound rimmed out.

Nicolas Batum credited his team’s defense, but was brutally honest about the team’s play without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

“The way we played last game was great, we just had to get back to it and we didn’t do it in the first half. It was one-pass, shot, one-on-one, nobody moved. We’re not a good team now. We gotta be honest, we can’t play like that. We can play like that when we have Mook, Marcus can do it, Reggie a little bit, but we can’t play like that because we have two guys who are capable of doing it, but they’re not playing right now so we have to play together as a team and move the ball.

“In the second half, we did it. It changed everything. We’re a totally different team when we play that way and defense stayed the same. Defense saved us tonight, but defense stayed the same, we just started moving the ball and start making shots and have more fun and start running. We’ve done a better job in transition the last two games. I think we’ve improved, the transition is a little bit better and we kept fighting. That’s a huge win for us. That’s a huge win.”