DENVER — Los Angeles Clippers forwards Matt Barnes and Blake Griffin huddled over a laptop computer in the locker room after the game to see the final seconds unfold again.
They watched as Denver Nuggets guard Randy Foye took a pass, dribbled behind the top of the key and squared to the basket. He rose up, and with Griffin’s outstretched arm in his face, let fly with a 30-footer that beat the buzzer and the Clippers 116-115 Monday night.
After watching it again, Griffin, who had 36 points and 11 rebounds, shook his head and said, “Nothing you can do about that.”
It took a big shot and a big game from two starters for the Nuggets to escape with a victory. Forward Kenneth Faried scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and guard Ty Lawson added 27 points in his return for the Nuggets, who snapped a two-game skid.
Their efforts were nearly wasted until Foye hit his shot.
“That’s probably one of the top moments in my playing career,” Foye said. “I’ve had 30-point games, 16 rebounds, 16 assists … but nothing was as big as this shot tonight in my career.”
Moments before, Barnes was the hero when his 3-pointer with 6.2 seconds left gave the Clippers a two-point lead.
After a timeout, Los Angeles took away the Nuggets’ first option, forward Wilson Chandler, leading to a mad scramble at the end.
“The play was broken,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “They were trying to go quick; we blew the play up. Give Foye credit, he didn’t stop, he just came and got the ball and made a shot.”
Both centers recorded double-doubles. Los Angeles’ DeAndre Jordan finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, while Denver’s J.J. Hickson had 17 points and 12 boards.
It was a tough ending for a Clippers team that was rolling since the start of the calendar year. They were 12-4 in January despite not having All-Star guard Chris Paul, out since Jan. 4 with a shoulder injury.
He could return as early as the weekend, adding more firepower the rotation.
So far, his teammates are doing well without him, and they nearly pulled out Monday’s game with a fourth-quarter push.
With the visitors down by one, Jordan’s dunk and guard J.J. Redick’s 3-pointer gave the Clippers a 103-99 lead.
After two free throws by Lawson, Griffin’s lob pass led to another Jordan dunk.
Six straight free throws gave Denver a 109-107 lead with 2:06 remaining, and after Griffin’s fast-break dunk, Lawson tied it at 111 with 1:21 left.
Griffin hit one free throw and Chandler a pair at the other end to give Denver a 113-112 lead.
The teams traded missed jumpers, setting up the final sequence.
After Foye’s jumper went in, he fell to the floor and his teammates mobbed him.
“I just had to go hug him because I was excited for him and excited for our team,” Faried said. “We needed that. We needed that relief.”
The Nuggets looked crisper with Lawson back in the lineup after he missed two games with a left rotator cuff strain. Following two turnover-filled contests in his absence, they took better care of the ball in the first half.
They struggled in the third quarter, committing eight turnovers, double their first-half output. However, a steal and layup at the buzzer by forward Quincy Miller gave Denver an 82-81 lead heading into the fourth.
Griffin had 22 points in the first half as the Clippers led by 13 at one point. The Nuggets rallied to tie it heading into the locker room.
“To be 60-all at the half, when there was a time when we had a 13-point lead in the second quarter, we’ve got to keep that, especially on the road,” Griffin said.
The Clippers gave up 17 offensive rebounds and were beaten 52-37 on the boards.
“That’s where we lost the game,” Rivers said. “We always focus on the final shot, but we gave up eight points in the first half off of free throws where they missed a shot, got it back and scored. We’ve got to rebound better as a group.”
NOTES: The Clippers signed G Sasha Vujacic to a 10-day contract, but he did not play Monday. Vujacic, 29, was part of the Lakers’ title teams in 2009 and 2010. He most recently played for a Turkish team the last two seasons, where he averaged 9.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists. … Nuggets G Ty Lawson returned to the lineup after missing two games with a left rotator cuff strain. … Clippers C DeAndre Jordan leads the NBA in field-goal percentage and rebounding. He is vying to become just the third player in league history to finish the season atop both categories. Houston C Dwight Howard and the late Wilt Chamberlain were the other two. … Denver’s 26 turnovers against the Toronto Raptors on Friday were its most in two seasons. The Nuggets gave the ball away 17 times Monday.
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.