Clippers plane hit by lightning ahead of Nuggets loss in OT

The wounds from Friday’s double overtime loss were still fresh when Clippers boarded their plane in Los Angeles around noon on Saturday.

Just about 13 hours ago, their lead of 14 in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, six in overtime, and again six in double overtime turned into a bitter defeat for the Sacramento team they needed to keep up with in the Western Conference standings.

Denver with the best seeding was waiting. But within a minute of takeoff, the team’s plane was struck by lightning when Clippers employees and airline crew felt the engines stall for a moment before revving up for a steep climb into the clouds. When everyone got off at Denver, a conspicuous spot along the tail, the site of impact, was stripped of paint.

What followed Sunday night at the Ball Arena was another hard-hitting and bumpy ride. 134-124 overtime losses to the Nuggets, which completed a bitter 48 hours, the events of which no one foresaw.

Eighteen points behind the best team in the West in the first quarter, the Clippers closed by four in the third, but a flagrant foul set off a disastrous stretch. Two minutes later they were 14 behind.

Using a patchwork of lineups – starting center Ivica Zubac missed his second game in a row – the Clippers took their first lead with just four minutes of regulation time on a twisty tally. Paul George this also resulted in a free throw.

When the Clippers failed to deflect a rebound from Jamal Murray’s deep shot to beat a near-expired shot clock, the Nuggets passed to Michael Porter Jr. for a good three-pointer with 27 seconds to play and a 120-118 lead.

George, who again missed two critical free throws in Sacramento on Friday, made two free throws to tie the score with 23 seconds left, and then after a last-second miss from Denver, hit a shot from the outfield that swung but the ball was in his hands in the final seconds.

In overtime, the Clippers’ resilience waned as they missed all five shots and four points came from free throws.

Kawhi Leonard scored 33 points, George had 23 and Russell Westbrook scored 17 points, five rebounds, five steals and four assists. But unlike Friday, when manager Tyronne Liu held Westbrook in critical minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime, Westbrook didn’t play after the check with 1 minute 21 seconds left in the third quarter.

With the new rotation, the Clippers haven’t been able to solve the decades-long problem of stopping Denver superstar Nikola Jokic, who could be on his way to winning the NBA’s MVP award for the third straight season. Without Tooth, the Clippers attempted to defend him with Mason Plumley early in the game, then switched to winger Nicolas Batum at half-time, whose long arms and guile successfully robbed Jokic of the ball and desired position. But Jokic had 40 points on 17 rebounds and 10 assists, with 15 of his points coming in the fourth quarter and overtime.

The loss left the Clippers 33-30 and spanned all four games against Denver, going 9-2 against the Clippers since the teams met in the 2020 Western Conference Semifinals.

The drama began long before overtime.

Traded for Charlotte before the February NBA game. 9 trade deadline in exchange for Plumlee before subsequently being traded and signed with Denver as a free agent, former Clippers guard Reggie Jackson went through Ball Arena security three hours before opening.

Wearing a down jacket and trucker hat, Jackson, who spent his high school years in Colorado Springs, Colorado. — started a conversation with almost every staff member he met, as usual in the Clippers.

Right behind him, Bones Hyland went through the arena’s metal detector, going from last season’s rookie with the Nuggets to a second-round pick deal with the Clippers a few months later. in the eye for his role.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic hits the basket between Clippers center Mason Plumley and forward Kawhi Leonard.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic hits the basket between Clippers center Mason Plumlee (left) and forward Kawhi Leonard on Sunday morning.

(David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

Denver did not appear to be disappointed by the loss of Highland to a conference attendee. Nuggets coach Michael Malone praised Clippers backup center Mason Plumlee, himself a former Nugget, before reporting, citing his professionalism. availability.

In an era when NBA teams honor returning standouts with tribute videos, Hyland stared at the arena’s suspended scoreboard during the first timeout, but the digital salute never came. Boos, however, did this whenever Hyland touched the ball. In contrast, Jackson’s first appearance in Denver as the Nugget was met with thunderous applause and the announcer’s message, “Welcome back, baby!”

Highland didn’t play Friday, Westbrook’s debut pushed the 22-year-old even lower in the depth chart, but with five minutes left in the first quarter, Highland was put in to use his microwave result to take the Clippers out of what was already 18. – points deficit Gone was the heartfelt gesture that Hyland gave fans during the warm-up, replaced by an icy look at one part of the fans on the court after his first three-pointer, and then another look at the Nuggets coaching staff and the bench a second later. Energy was vital, the Clippers’ 11 points in the second quarter were needed to prevent a repeat of the January game. 13 as Denver quickly pulled into a double-digit lead to beat the Clippers at halftime.

Highland scored 10 points, Jackson seven, but both were ultimately subplots to the larger story of what Malone also specifically said before the warning: these teams, separated by three places in the standings, were nonetheless the same , they needed to establish their identity with the season. the last quarter left.