Just a few nights after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers to begin their season, the LA Clippers went into Denver on Christmas Day and had another impressive showing against the Nuggets, winning 121-108.
Much like Tuesday's contest, the Clippers got out to a hot start early in the first half and had no issue building a significant lead. LA built an eight-point advantage in the first quarter and extended that margin to 20 by the end of the second quarter.
LA's ball movement helped them with their efficient offensive attack — especially in the first half. The Clippers dished out 18 assists on 21 made field goals in the first couple of frames, and 12 of those buckets were cashed from beyond the arc.
The Clippers kept up the pressure after halftime, never letting their lead dip below 15 and pushing it as high as 24 near the end of the frame.
A familiar story began to play out in the fourth, though, as Nuggets guard Jamal Murray got hot from deep. There were several possessions where the Clippers didn't look to have an answer for him on defense, and their lead dipped down to 11 multiple times during the quarter.
LA's offense looked sluggish at times as well, taking a bit longer to get into their sets and wasting precious time as a result.
But the Clippers held on and were able to stave off Denver's comeback, moving to 2-0 on the year with two impressive victories over last season's Western Conference finalists. Even though LA didn't lead wire-to-wire as it did against the Lakers, the Clippers only trailed three times to the Nuggets and were never down by more than two points.
Here are a few things that stood out from their dominant performance.
Kawhi Leonard Suffers Gruesome Injury
Kawhi Leonard had another strong showing on Friday night, logging 21 points, five rebounds, seven assists, four steals and a block across 30 minutes. However, his night was cut short after taking an inadvertent elbow to the face from teammate Serge Ibaka late in the fourth quarter.
The two collided while going up for a rebound in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, which sent a bloodied Leonard to the floor. He went to the locker room shortly after and did not return to the contest.
After the game, Tyronn Lue discussed Leonard's injury with reporters.
"I didn't even see it [happen]," Lue said. "He's still getting evaluated right now... He's going to be fine. He got up and walked off the floor, so he's good."
Shortly after Lue's presser concluded, the team announced that Leonard had suffered a facial laceration that required eight stitches to repair.
As of now, there's been no word as to whether he'll play in Sunday's game against the Dallas Mavericks or if this is an injury that will keep him out for a longer period of time. Lue's words seem to point to him being back sooner than later, but we likely won't know until late Saturday night or Sunday morning.
Nicolas Batum Shows Out
There have been more than a few pleasant surprises in the early part of LA's season, but Nicolas Batum's performance thus far has to top the list.
After a solid outing against the Lakers on opening night, Batum impressed with a line of 13 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block in Friday night's victory. It was his first double-double since the 2017-18 season and another sign that he's still got plenty left in the tank.
Batum is seemingly always in the right place at the right time. He knows how to position himself for rebounds and who to kick it out to immediately after. He makes smart, timely passes to set his teammates up for easy buckets. He sneaks into passing lanes and racks up deflections.
In short, his high basketball IQ is always on display — which is something Lue commended him for after the game.
"Just great basketball IQ," Lue said. "Just an all-around great player. He can handle the basketball, he can shoot it, he can post, he can pass, and he can defend... He's very valuable, and also just knowing and reading the game."
There have been other role players worthy of praise, such as Patrick Patterson and Luke Kennard, but Batum has stood out as the most surprising member of the team thus far.
Once Again, the LA Clippers Show Resolve
The main critique of this Clippers team last season — especially in the playoffs — was that they weren't a resilient group. That was certainly evident against the Denver Nuggets in the second round, but it had been there all year.
It's obviously very early, but the fact that LA has looked so resilient through its first two contests (and against this level of competition) is an extremely welcome sight.
On opening night, the Clippers led by as many as 22 points against the Lakers but saw their lead completely disappear in the third quarter. That would have been it for LA last year, but this team continued to battle and built the lead back up as high as 17 before the final buzzer.
Friday's contest with the Nuggets wasn't quite as desperate, as the Clippers led by double-digits over the final 32 minutes of the game. However, Denver halved LA's lead early in the fourth quarter, and momentum was already shifting in their direction when Leonard exited the game. Instead of rolling over, though, LA weathered the storm and held on to win.
"Just being resilient," Lue said of the Clippers' first two performances. "I thought we just kept our composure... That's the way we want to play."
LA's new head coach has emphasized mental toughness and being willing to adapt since he took over. So far, it seems that message has resonated with this new team.