Jack Dempsey/Associated Press
Jack Dempsey/Associated Press
DENVER – Kenyon Martin spent seven seasons patrolling the paint in Denver. He gave the Pepsi Center crowd something else to remember him by Wednesday night.
Martin helped beat his old team with a tip-in and blocked shot in the final half-minute, leading the Los Angeles Clippers past the Nuggets 104-98 in a crucial game between teams jockeying for playoff position.
“It’s about winning basketball,” Martin said. “Just never quit playing no matter what the situation is, always put yourself in a position to make plays. Just trying to get a W. We’re fighting for playoff position. We did an excellent job as a unit just staying with it.”
Martin, especially. He tipped in Chris Paul’s missed jumper with 27 seconds left and the game tied at 96.
“That was my only rebound (Wednesday night),” said Martin, who logged 30 minutes. “So, it was perfect timing.”
He wasn’t finished.
Martin hustled back down court and blocked Ty Lawson at the other end with 20 seconds remaining.
After a timeout, Paul drew what the Nuggets thought was a phantom foul and made two free throws with 18.3 seconds left to make it a four-point game.
The Nuggets got back within two on Lawson’s free throws with 16 seconds left, but Mo Williams, who scored 19 points and came up huge in the fourth quarter, replied with two free throws, and Paul capped the game with an uncontested dunk to finish with 24 points.
Martin wasn’t exactly welcomed back by the crowd that used to cheer his every move.
“It’s cool, whatever. It’s about winning, it’s not about anything else,” Martin said. “They are cheering for their team, which I expect them to do. I had a good seven years here, and they cheered for me every time I was here. I was here for a long time, played a lot of winning basketball, made the playoffs seven years, seven out of seven.”
Martin and the Nuggets went their separate ways after last season. Martin played in China briefly during the NBA lockout, then signed a one-year deal with the Clippers, whose coach, Vinny Del Negro, now is enjoying the many things the veteran forward brings to his lineup.
“He has instincts for the ball with his athleticism and quickness. He can read situations because he has that experience,” Del Negro said. “He made a big tip-in, had a big block. He helps us anchor our defense because he can switch out at the end of games and guard guards, 2s, 3s, and you don’t have to double at all with him. He just gives you more versatility.”
And game-winning plays in crunch time.
That it was Martin who beat them made this loss all the more painful for the Nuggets, who are 1½ games ahead of eighth-place Utah.
“He made some big plays down the stretch,” guard Arron Afflalo said. “You hate to single out one singular play as to why you lose a basketball game, but the rebound and the block were huge for them.”
With their 13th win in 15 games, the Clippers kept pressure on the Lakers as the two L.A. teams took their fight for first place in the Pacific Division down to the wire.
Despite 24 points from Lawson, the Nuggets lost at home for the first time since March 19 and slipped into seventh place in the West, a half-game behind Dallas, which beat Houston 117-110 on Wednesday.
The Nuggets have four games left, three on the road, as they try to secure their ninth consecutive trip to the playoffs.
“We’re going to have to win a couple more games,” Denver coach George Karl said.
The Clippers matched their season-high with 14 3-pointers, including four each from Caron Butler and Williams and three from Nick Young.
Two of Williams’ 3s came during a 10-0 run the Clippers used to turn an 87-82 deficit into a 92-87 lead.
Williams’ most impressive 3-pointer came with the Clippers clinging to a 92-89 lead. Paul lost the handle on the ball with the shot clock winding down, Williams scooped it up and let loose an off-balance prayer that swished as the buzzer went off, giving the Clippers a six-point lead with 3 minutes left.