Carmelo Anthony had 30 points and 14 rebounds, Aaron Afflalo added 27 points and nine boards on the eve of his 25th birthday, and the Denver Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Clippers 100-95 on Thursday night after blowing an 18-point lead.
Blake Griffin, counting the days before his official NBA debut after a frustrating one-year wait, led the Clippers with 24 points and 14 rebounds in his fifth game of the preseason. Chris Kaman added 23 points for Los Angeles.
Point guard Baron Davis, playing through knee and calf issues, had seven points in 24 minutes during his second game of the preseason. He had a 16½-minute outing in Tuesday's 100-99 loss to San Antonio at Mexico City — a game in which the Clippers blew an 18-point lead.
Griffin, the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, played his first game before the home crowd at Staples Center since last Oct. 23 — when he suffered a non-displaced stress fracture in his left kneecap during the team's final exhibition game against New Orleans. He underwent season-ending surgery three months later after the knee failed to respond to treatment and rehab, then averaged 15.8 points and 11.5 boards through his first four exhibition games.
Afflalo's two free throws gave Denver a 98-95 edge with 11.5 seconds on the clock. The Clippers had a chance to tie, but Eric Gordon missed a 3-point shot with 5 seconds to go and finished with 19 points. Anthony got the rebound and iced it with two free throws.
Denver opened the third quarter with a 13-3 run that increased its two-point halftime lead to 70-59 with 8:20 left in the period. The Nuggets built the margin to 79-61 on Afflalo's two free throws with 4:25 left in the quarter after Nene picked up his fifth foul.
The Nuggets center was still on the bench when the Clippers opened the fourth with eight straight points, including Davis' first basket of the game, to slice Denver's lead to 84-81 with 8:28 to play. Rasual Butler's two free throws tied it at 86 with 5:57 left, and Davis' three-point play pulled the Clippers even again at 91 with 3:32 remaining.
Anthony paced the Nuggets to a 57-55 halftime lead with 18 points, one fewer than Kaman had for the Clippers. Neither team led by more than five until Anthony made a 3-pointer that extended Denver's lead to 65-59 with 9:42 left in the third quarter.
Denver played without Kenyon Martin (left knee), Al Harrington (left foot), Chris Anderson (right knee) and Chauncey Billups, who was rested by coach George Karl after playing more than 22½ minutes in his preseason debut on Tuesday. The Clippers played without backup center DeAndre Jordan (right hamstring).
NOTES: The only Denver points in the fourth quarter other than those by Anthony and Afflalo came on a short jumper by Shelden Williams with 8:07 remaining. ... It was the first of three games in a four-day span for both clubs, including the annual Staples Shootout with the two-time defending champion Lakers and Utah Jazz. ... Forward Renaldo Balkman, the first player off the Nuggets' bench, picked up four fouls in his first five minutes on the court and fouled out with 2:05 remaining. Teammate Melvin Ely also fouled out early in the fourth ... Butler, who set a Clippers franchise record for 3-pointers made in a season during the 2009-10 campaign, was 1 for 8 from behind the arc and is 9 for 28 from long range during the preseason. ... Clippers fans got their first look at Staples Center's new eight-sided, high-definition scoreboard, which includes four LED video screens underneath so that spectators sitting in the first 20 rows can get a decent view of the replays.
(This version CORRECTS Nuggets 100, Clippers 95. corrects that Anthony had 14 rebounds.)