AAA to the rescue: Nuggets beat Mavs at buzzer
Carmelo Anthony – Captain Clutch, himself – was banished to the sideline after fouling out with 19 seconds to play.
Mr. Big Shot, Chauncey Billups, couldn’t quite get a clean look at the basket as the clock ticked under five seconds.
Who would the Nuggets turn in one of the biggest moments of the season?
Triple-A to the rescue.
Amazing Arron Afflalo.
Afflalo hit a 19-foot jumper as time expired, capping a monster fourth quarter and giving the Nuggets an improbable 121-120 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night at the Pepsi Center.
Afflalo scored 19 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and celebrated with his teammates after the Nuggets erased a nine-point deficit in the game’s final 2:09 to snap Dallas’ 10-game winning streak.
“There are games during the year that you remember, and I think this’ll be in that slate,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Come June, you’ll talk about some of the crazy games and I’m sure this one’ll come to everybody’s memory.”
Afflalo certainly won’t forget it anytime soon.
He said it was the first time in his basketball career – high school, college and pro – that he made a winner at the buzzer.
“This is by far one of my better moments,” he said. “That whole quarter, my energy level was a passion for winning. I wasn’t really even thinking about my points at the time.”
For Anthony, hitting game-winners has been one of his trademarks; he has 14 career winners to his credit, including a 3-pointer to beat Dallas in the second round of the 2009 Western Conference playoffs.
The Mavericks, however, didn’t have to account for Anthony in the final seconds Thursday night. With the game tied at 119, he was called for kicking Dirk Nowitzki and went to the bench with six fouls and 42 points.
Nowitzki made 1 of 2 free throws with 19.6 seconds left, and the Nuggets put the ball in Billups’ hands with the game on the line.
“If Melo was in the game, we were going to stick him the corner and see if we could get the pick-and-roll with Chauncey and Nene and then throw Melo in isolation,” Karl said. “We changed position and put Arron down there.”
Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd forced the ball out of Billups’ hands near the top of the key and Afflalo put the ball on the floor when Shawn Marion ran at him to challenge the shot.
“Most people take a rushed shot, a forced shot and they never get that clean look,” Afflalo said. “That’s all I had in my mind – get a clean look.”
As the ball splashed through the net, Afflalo ran back down court and jumped in celebration with J.R. Smith. It was equal-part jubilation, equal part relief as the Nuggets (31-23) ended a two-game skid and won their final home game in advance of a three-game road trip before the All-Star break.
“That’s not even like me to go running off like that,” Afflalo said. “If it was something I regularly do, I probably would’ve just walked and embraced the moment. The whole fourth quarter had so much emotion behind it, it was just a good win.”
While Afflalo came up big in the fourth quarter, Billups set the tone for the game with 18 points in the first.
It was a great sign for the Nuggets after Billups sat out Wednesday night’s loss to Golden State with a strained left knee. As he sat down on the bench between quarters, Karl looked over at him and joked: “Need a rest?”
“I was good,” Billups said. “I was the only guy that wasn’t really playing in the back-to-back, so I was a little fresher than everyone else.”
Billups finished with 30 points and got his ninth assist on Afflalo’s clutch shot as the Nuggets erased a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit after leading by as many as 18 in the first half.
“It seemed like we were fighting to dig out of that hole,” Anthony said. “We stuck with it. We kept chipping away, we made some shots, got some defensive stops and it came down to that game-winner.”
KARL PRAISES SLOAN: When Jerry Sloan stepped down after 23 seasons as coach of the Utah Jazz on Thursday, Karl became the third-longest tenured coach in the NBA behind San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich (15 seasons) and Boston’s Doc Rivers (7).
Karl, in his sixth full season with the Nuggets, took no pleasure in moving up the list.
“Shocked and sad would be my feelings,” he said. “He’s no question one of my favorite coaches and one of the best coaches in the NBA. To go down this way makes me very sad.”
ETC: Anthony is averaging 41 points on 40-of-70 shooting in his past three home games … While the Mavericks’ reserves outscored the Denver bench 72-12, the Nuggets’ starters held a 109-48 advantage over their Dallas counterparts.