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Koufos enjoys career night as Nuggets win 11th straight

By Aaron J. Lopez, Nuggets.com

Posted March 15 2013 00:42

It was a physical, stuck-in-the-mud, grind-it-out defensive game generally associated with the NBA playoffs.

The type of game that the Denver Nuggets aren’t supposed to win.

With his team trailing by eight points following a dismal third quarter, Nuggets coach George Karl addressed his players with the calm demeanor of a five-star general who has been through his share of battles.

“This game’s going to be good for us,” he said in the team huddle. “We’ve got to learn how to win these kinds of games. We need to be physical, aggressive and smart. Stay in the fight!”

The Nuggets took the message to heart and beat the Memphis Grizzlies at their own game.

Denver forced five turnovers and held Memphis to 1-for-10 shooting during a 17-4 run to open the fourth quarter, and then held on for an 87-80 victory over the Grizzlies in front of a sellout crowd at Pepsi Center.

“The mental aspect of winning this game is a big step,” Karl said. “Our mental composure and direction and toughness was grown-up. It was a man’s game. It was a game that you won because of heart and toughness and guts and glory and dig-it-out.”

The Nuggets (45-22) extended their winning streak to 11 games and pulled within a half-game of both Memphis and the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.

Center Kosta Koufos led the way with 18 points and a career-high 16 rebounds as Denver also won its 15th straight home game. The Nuggets are 34-10 since Dec. 14 – a stretch that started with a home victory over Memphis.

“It was obviously a playoff-type atmosphere,” Memphis forward Tayshaun Prince said. “They have a great winning streak going and we’ve got some good things going these last 15 games. Both teams had in their minds that we were going to play hard and play aggressive.”

The Grizzlies, who had won 14 of 15 since Feb. 8, boast the NBA’s top scoring defense (89.4 points per game) and it showed through the first 36 minutes.

The Nuggets went 4-for-20 from the field and committed six turnovers while scoring a season-low 10 points in the third quarter.

Denver then turned the tables in the fourth, outscoring the Grizzlies 29-14 as Memphis went 3-for-17 from the field.

“We didn’t back down,” Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried said. “We weren’t afraid of them. We proved tonight we don’t have to score 110, 120 points to beat teams.”

Limited by foul trouble, Faried still provided energy and defensive intensity. He finished with eight points and four blocked shots in 19 minutes while battling Memphis big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Reserve forward Corey Brewer also had a big hand in the comeback, scoring seven of his 11 points during the big fourth-quarter run that ignited the crowd and turned an eight-point deficit into a five-point lead.

Memphis fought back, taking a one-point lead on Prince’s turnaround jumper with 3:59 left. That turned out to be the last field goal of the night for the Grizzlies, who managed just 33 points in the second half.

The Nuggets closed the game on an 11-3 run that included a big jumper by Danilo Gallinari and a steal and dunk by Andre Iguodala.

“You grow playing these kinds of games and you learn so much,” Gallinari said. “You cannot grow a lot when you are blowing out a team by 20 or 30. These are the kind of games that make you improve as a team.”

It was the kind of game that showed the Nuggets are more than just flash and dash.

When things slow down, they can still find their way to the finish line.

STAR OF THE GAME

Kosta Koufos

Points 18 7-9 FG
Rebounds 16, 7 OFF 9 DEF
Assists 0
Steals 0
Blocks 3
GAME LEADERS
Points Kosta Koufos, Zach Randolph 18
Rebounds Zach Randolph 18
Assists Andre Iguodala 7
Steals Three players with 2
Blocks Kenneth Faried 4
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT

Nuggets coach George Karl on persevering in a slow-down, physical game against the Memphis Grizzlies

"The mental aspect of winning this game is a big step. Our mental composure and direction and toughness was grown-up. And tonight’s game was a man’s game. We didn’t have anyone playing at a high level skillwise. It was a game that you won because of heart and toughenss and gut and glory and dig it out."

KEY MOMENT

Nuggets pick up the intensity during fourth-quarter push

After scoring 10 points in the third quarter, the Nuggets opened the fourth on a 17-4 run to turn an eight-point deficit into a five-point lead. Corey Brewer scored seven points during that stretch.
VIDEO RECAP

Postgame Quotes

Nuggets coach George Karl

On winning a slower-paced game:
“It was one of those games. We were searching for three quarters, trying to find offense. Kenneth [Faried], I thought, just really ignited us with some good rebounding but also, a couple cuts. We finally met Zach [Randolph] man-to-man a little bit more and the game got to be a really physical game. I thought it was a good test for us. It was our response to not knowing how we are going to win against a good team and in a big pressure situation. I said in the beginning of the fourth quarter, “this is good for us.” This is good to find out what we have to do, how we have to do it, can we do it? I thought Kenneth was great and when he got his fifth foul, Kosta [Koufos] came in, those two guys did a great job. I thought the defense was probably the next thing that won us the game; holding a team to 35 percent [shooting], and if we rebound the ball, probably 32 or 33 percent. Every game - I think for the last seven games - has been similar.”

On the third quarter struggles:
“I thought on offense - in the beginning of the third - we turned it over three times and took three crap shots in the first seven possessions. And then Kenneth [Faried] gets into foul trouble and we never found anything offensively in the third quarter. Defense gave us some things and we got to the rim a little bit. Corey [Brewer] got a couple hustle points and made his free throws on the three-pointer. Some things broke our way early in the fourth and it became a hell of a basketball game.”

On Kosta Koufos:
“He had a hell of an assignment on [Zach] Randolph and in the end, Zach doesn’t kill you. He had a good game. As I have said before, Kosta does what we want him to do. He stays underneath the defense and they help so much on protecting the basket. I think Kosta fell into a lot of tip-ins, a lot of offensive rebounds. He is also clever when we penetrate and find answers. He made a big play, a pretty good offensive play. He is getting better every week.”

Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari

On the crowd tonight:
“It was very important. We were down by ten and we were coming back and the crowd was loud. They really helped us out a lot.”

On a big fourth quarter:
“You grow playing these kinds of games and you learn so much and you grow from this. You cannot grow a lot when you are blowing out a team by 20 or 30 [points]. These are the kind of games that make you improve as a team.”

On surviving the third quarter:
“We survived with our defense. Our offense wasn’t very good; we scored like ten points in the third quarter. So it wasn’t very good but we were able anyway to stop their transition game and post-up game a little bit. I thought in the fourth quarter once our defense was settled and we played with the same aggressiveness, our offense came in the right way, in our way in the fourth quarter.”

Nuggets center Kosta Koufos

On the importance of tonight’s win:
“Definitely; this is huge for us. Memphis is a really good team and we don’t know what the postseason holds for us but it was very important, especially for the tie-breaker. We have to turn the page and we have a game coming up and a hard road trip so our minds’ are on [the] Chicago [Bulls] now.”

On being able to play a half-court game:
“It has been a little while but I think we learned a lot from this game. We have things to tighten up on and that’s what practice is for. We are going to be ready for this road trip coming up.”

On the difference in the fourth quarter:
“Everybody played more aggressively, more defensively and I think that was key for us, the defensive end. The defense was the transition for our offense and that was the biggest thing.”

Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins

On turnovers:
“It’s when you make turnovers - you can have 20 turnovers in the first half - but if you make two or three in the fourth quarter with two minutes to go, it’s probably going to cost you the game. So that had nothing to do with it. They battled and we did a battle on them. When you are shooting 35 percent, you should get some offensive rebounds. We had 20 of them but you look at our second-chance points and we only had 17 so we missed a lot of should-be’s at the basket that we need to make.”

On the front court matchups:
“[Kosta] Koufos has a lot of freedom because we are helping and they are driving. And he just follows in and gets the offensive rebounds which is what he should do and he is smart for doing that. Somebody getting 16 rebounds on the defensive end, you can’t do anything about it. That’s defensive rebounds but they battled, we battled and it was a good game. A low scoring game but it was a good game.”

Grizzlies forward Tayshaun Prince

On Denver’s play down the stretch:
“They played great defense down the stretch, it sort of took us out of our plays a little bit. They started doing some things different than they did at the beginning of the game. We had a couple turnovers, a couple bad decisions; but those things happen. I liked how the game was going, keeping [the score] in the 70’s, obviously that’s a good situation for us to be in. that’s how we want to play. It was definitely tough, but they had great defense at the end of the game.”

On the rebounding against Denver:
“They have good athletic bigs, we’ve got long bigs. Zach [Randolph] does a great job of standing up on the glass. They hurt us on the glass in the first half, especially in the first quarter; I think that’s what kept them in the game. We started out the half very good and we made some bad decisions; a couple of tough plays.”

On playing in Denver:
“It was obviously a playoff-type atmosphere. They have a great winning streak going and we’ve got some good things going these last 15 games. Both teams had in their minds that we were going to play hard and play aggressive. I think we both did that, but we came up on the short end of the stick. We can’t let this bother us and we’ve got to get ready for a good team tomorrow.”

Grizzlies guard Tony Allen

On the loss:
“Obviously we were in a funk offensively. I think getting those guys in the penalty early was key for [the Nuggets]. At the end of the day, we still had an opportunity to capitalize on the game. We missed a lot of layups that turned into offensive chances for them, but at the end of the day we didn’t capitalize defensively.”

On looking forward to the next game:
“That’s where our focus stays; we’re not going to get too low. We lost; obviously we’re going to build from it going into the next game we’re looking forward to getting the win in Utah. We’re going to go into the next game with our heads high, we went out there [Utah] and won earlier and we plan on doing that again, but having more of a sense of urgency on the defensive end.”

POSTGAME NOTES

INDIVIDUAL

• Kosta Koufos led the team with 18 points on 7-of-9 (.777) shooting and 16 rebounds (seven offensive). The 16 rebounds are a new career high (previous – 14 twice, most recently on 12/18/12 vs. SAS) while his seven offensive boards ties his career-high (also had seven on 12/17/10 at POR ).

• Koufos becomes only the sixth Nugget in team history with 18+ points and 16+ boards while shooting .777-or-better in a game (first since Kenneth Faried on 3/17/12 vs. BOS).

• Koufos is averaging 15.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.33 blocks per game in the last three contests. Additionally, Koufos has recorded double-digit rebounds in all three of those games. It is the first time in his career that he has had three consecutive games with 10+ rebounds.

• Koufos also blocked three shots, marking the 12th time he has blocked three-or-more shots in a game this season (Nuggets 11-1). It is only the second time that the big man has recorded a double-double while also recording three-or-more blocks (previous – 11/9/12 vs. UTA).

• Corey Brewer led the bench with 11 points, marking the 28th time he has led the bench in scoring this season (third time in the last four games).

• Andre Iguodala registered eight points, seven rebounds, and seven assists tonight. It is the 82nd time in his career (eighth this season) he has reached those numbers in a game. His respective teams have won 13-straight games when he accomplishes those numbers.

• Kenneth Faried blocked four shots tonight, marking the fifth time he has blocked four-or-more shots in a game (fourth time this season).

• Zach Randolph registered 18 points and 18 rebounds (10 offensive) tonight, the 26th time in his career he has reached those numbers in the same game. It is only the ninth time in his career he has had 10+ offensive boards.

TEAM

• The Nuggets beat the Grizzlies 87-80, extending their winning streak to 11 consecutive games. It is Denver’s longest win streak since 2/24/83 through 3/15/83 (also 11 games). The Nuggets have now won 26 of their last 28 home games over Memphis.

• Denver is now 30-3 at home and has won 15 straight games at Pepsi Center (longest single-season streak since winning 19 straight from 1/28/89 thru 4/20/89).

• The Nuggets allowed just 80 points, the second fewest they have given up this year (LAC had 78 on 1/1). The Grizzlies’ 33 second-half points is an opponent season-low. Denver is now 28-3 when allowing 100-or-fewer points and 11-2 when holding their opponent under 90.

• Denver’s 87 points is their third lowest total of the year and their fewest in a win since they had 82 at ORL on 2/9/11. Denver’s 10 points in the third is their fewest in a quarter since they had 10 at SAS on 2/20/07.

• The Nuggets trailed by eight heading into the fourth, tying their largest deficit overcome entering the fourth (was down eight vs. GSW on 1/13). Tonight was the 10th time this season the Nuggets have overcome a 10+ point deficit.

• Denver was just 1-of-12 (.083) from beyond the arc tonight, their fewest three-point makes in a win since they were 1-of-13 vs. POR on 11/14/07. The only other game since then that Denver made one-or-fewer threes was their 0-for-22 game at POR on 12/20.

• The Nuggets recorded 10 blocks tonight and are 10-3 on the year when they have 10-or-more rejections.

• The Nuggets are now 31-5 when posting more points off turnovers than their opponents.