DENVER (AP) The Los Angeles Clippers drew on their reserves to mount an unlikely comeback.
Lou Williams scored 25 points and Boban Marjanovic added a season-high 18 as the Clippers overcame a 19-point deficit in the third quarter to beat the Denver Nuggets 122-120 on Tuesday night.
Austin Rivers added 17 points and Montrezl Harrell had 15 for the Clippers, whose bench outscored Denver’s reserves 54-4 in the second half.
”It’s a great example why you play the games,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. ”There are things that happen that you don’t account for. We get down and we put that (all-reserve) lineup on the floor that I guarantee they never scouted because we never used it and it worked for us.
”We had the entire bench on the floor and the entire starting lineup was up cheering and giving guys water. That’s what teams are and it was nice to see,” Rivers added.
Williams said the novel combination just seemed to mesh on the court quickly and the players seized on the change in momentum.
”Sometimes you have different lineups in that get the job done, so tonight was like that,” Williams said.
From the other side though, it was hard to watch.
”We had control of the game,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. ”Doc cleared his bench, put his bench in the game but give those guys credit. Those guys kept competing, kept playing hard and we stopped playing the way we did to get us the lead. We saw tonight a great example of what can happen when you do that – you take a tough loss.”
Gary Harris had 23 points to lead the Nuggets, who lost consecutive games at home for the first time this season. Paul Millsap had nine points and seven rebounds in 23:26 minutes of play in his return from a left wrist injury that had sidelined him for the last three months.
”It went pretty well, felt pretty good,” Millsap said. ”So I’ll just keep pushing, trying to get a rhythm.”
Leading by six at the half, the Nuggets stretched their lead to 19 points on a layup by Harris but the Clippers fought back to within seven points going into the fourth quarter, outscoring the Nuggets 18-6 over the last 4 1-2 minutes of the third.
The Clippers scored the first eight points of the fourth and moved in front 89-88 on Harrell’s layup, their first lead since the first quarter.
Denver pulled to within a point on a layup by Wilson Chandler but the Clippers scored three consecutive baskets, capped by a dunk by Marjanovic for a 115-108 lead with 3:14 remaining.
The Nuggets were down 119-118 after Harris’ 3-pointer with 15.1 seconds remaining. The Nuggets then fouled Williams who made both free throws and Jamal Murray made a pair of free throws with 8.1 seconds to go.
Austin Rivers was fouled and made one of his two free throws with 7 seconds left, but Denver did not get a final shot off before the buzzer when Murray lost the ball as he drove toward the basket, poked away by Rivers in a game-sealing defensive play.
Will Barton had all 19 of his points in the first half, helping the Nuggets take a 58-52 lead.
Millsap entered the game for the first time midway through the first quarter – his first action since tearing a left wrist ligament Nov. 19 against the Los Angeles Lakers. He muscled in a layup for his first points of the game and banked in a 3-pointer from 26 feet away to culminate a 17-4 burst over the last four minutes of the opening period.
Clippers: F Danilo Gallinari, formerly a member of the Nuggets, missed the game against his old team because of a bruised right hand. … G Avery Bradley remains sidelined by a sports hernia.
Nuggets: F Torrey Craig missed a fifth consecutive game with a left hamstring strain but coach Michael Malone said he is making progress and could possibly be ready Friday night when the team plays at Memphis.
Clippers: Completes a back to back set Wednesday night by hosting Houston.
Nuggets: Open a three-game road trip Friday night at Memphis.