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Second-half defense propels Nuggets to seventh straight win

By Aaron J. Lopez, Nuggets.com

Posted Feb. 6 2013 00:09

As the Denver Nuggets celebrated their seventh straight win, the postgame buzz centered on the Circus Shot.

Let the record show it was Denver’s stifling defense that made the play possible.

Danilo Gallinari scored 22 points, including two on a wild one-hand flip off the glass, as the Nuggets rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 112-104 Tuesday night at Pepsi Center.

Trailing by seven points midway through the fourth quarter, the Nuggets forced five turnovers and held the Bucks to one field goal during a 19-4 run over the game’s final 5 minutes, 59 seconds.

“It was definitely the defense,” Gallinari said. “We picked up our defense and that made us play better. We didn’t play really good defense in the first two quarters. We talked about our defense and said that we have to play our best defense to get back in the game.”

After allowing 66 points on .608 shooting in the first half, the Nuggets (31-18) extended their winning streak to a season-best seven games by surrendering just 38 points on .347 shooting after halftime.

“Basketball is a crazy game,” Denver coach George Karl said. “There’s no way I thought it was going to be an easy win down the stretch, but because of our defense, we made it somewhat of an easy fourth-quarter win. We were just a very good defensive team the second half, and an awful defensive team in the first half.”

The Nuggets improved to 20-6 since Dec. 13, second in the NBA only to the San Antonio Spurs. They also moved past Golden State for fifth place in the Western Conference, just percentage points behind No. 4 Memphis.

“We had to get this win," Denver point guard Ty Lawson said. “It was big for us to move up in the standings. As a team, I think we’re one of the top four in the West. I guess right now we’re proving it.”

Lawson was one of several catalysts for the Nuggets, scoring 15 of his 22 points in the second half. Corey Brewer added 20 points and had two steals – both leading directly to open-court dunks in the game’s final 2:40.

Kenneth Faried finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds for his 20th double-double, and Andre Iguodala had four steals for Denver, which scored 29 points off 17 Milwaukee turnovers.

“The second half was not a good ball-handling half for us,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “We turned the ball over too much against a team that turns turnovers into points really quick. We couldn’t afford that and unfortunately for us, that’s what we did.”

The Nuggets trailed 64-47 late in the first half as the Bucks rode a career night from veteran center Samuel Dalembert, who made his first nine shots and finished with 35 points on 17-of-21 shooting.

Dalembert was effective again in the second half, but Denver did a much better job controlling Milwaukee point guard Brandon Jennings, who went 0-for-7 with five turnovers after the break.

Riding their defense, the Nuggets took their first lead of the night on an elbow jumper by Lawson with 2:26 remaining. Consecutive steals by Iguodala and Brewer put Denver ahead 108-103 with 1:27 to play.

Yet another steal, this one by Lawson, led to a 2-on-1 fast break for Brewer and Gallinari. After catching the pass from Brewer, Gallinari collided in mid-air with Bucks forward Mike Dunleavy and windmilled a shot high off the glass and in to make it 110-104 with 46.6 seconds left.

“Dunleavy came at me, and once I heard the referee’s whistle, I just threw the ball and it went in,” Gallinari said. “It’s a great feeling when you make shots like that. It was very important to win the game. After that, I missed the free throw. That’s the part I don’t like.”

Gallinari could be forgiven for the missed free throw. His shot energized the crowd and his teammates as they matched their biggest comeback of the season and their longest winning streak since Nov. 20-Dec. 5, 2010.

It prompted the question: When was the last time the Nuggets were this hot?

“I thought we were playing very well at the end of last year when we started snowballing our momentum pretty good just prior to the playoffs,” Karl said. “There’s some growing up going on out there.”

STAR OF THE GAME

Ty Lawson

Points 22, 6-11 FG, 9-11 FT
Rebounds 2, 0 OFF 2 DEF
Assists 7
Steals 2
Blocks 0
GAME LEADERS
Points Samuel Dalembert 35
Rebounds Samuel Dalembert 12
Assists Brandon Jennings 10
Steals Andre Iguodala 4
Blocks Larry Sanders 5
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT

Nuggets coach George Karl on his team's maturation over the past five weeks

“There's some growing up going on out there."”

KEY MOMENT

Nuggets turn up the defense to pull away late

Tied with 2:45 remaining, Ty Lawson started a decisive 10-2 run with a mid-range jumper, and the Nuggets recorded three steals that led to fast-break baskets.

VIDEO RECAP

Postgame Quotes

Nuggets coach George Karl

On defense in the second half:
“Basketball is a crazy game and to play as badly as we did defensively in the first half, and then to play the last six minutes with virtually no mistakes defensively. I thought we played a little bit cool and cocky early in the game and they [Bucks] had some guys making great basketball plays. Their big kids were pounding us and the mistakes we were making, they were getting easy shots and they were finishing them. [Samuel] Dalembert getting 35; we rejuvenated his career. [Larry] Sanders kid was good too, until the second half but in the second half we were more active. Our defense played as a team, more than hugging on the weak side, we were more alert to the strong side. And in the fourth quarter with the steals that we made, there’s no way I thought it was going to be an easy win in the stretch but because of our defense, made it somewhat of an easy fourth quarter win. They [Bucks] missed shots and we covered their three ball really well. We were just a very good defensive team the second half, and an awful defensive team in the first half.”

On Samuel Dalembert:
“He’s been shooting better, but I’ve never seen him shoot the ball that well. When you’ve got two guards that you’ve got to put two on or cover with two and a half people, you’re going to have to leave someone open. I don’t know if we challenged any of his shots really, but in the second half we at least got a little better respect for him. He still made one or two I didn’t think he could make. I thought we made a change on Jennings and Jennings didn’t get into the gaps as much as he did in the first half and that’s probably on me. We thought about doing it, changing it at the beginning of the game but we stayed with our concepts and probably should have changed, forcing him to his weak hand.”

Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari

On the biggest difference in the fourth quarter:
“It was definitely the defense. We picked up our defense and that made us play better. We didn’t play really good defense in the first two quarters. We talked about our defense and said that we have to play our best defense to get back in the game.”

On what he feels when hitting a shot like his final shot tonight:
“It is a great feeling. Especially when they are shots like that and they are very important. It’s always a great feeling. It was very important to win the game but after that, I missed the free throws. That’s the part that I don’t like because I have to make free throws and I didn’t make them. I am going to practice on that.”

On tonight being a grind-it-out game:
“Milwaukee is a very good team. Ever since they changed their coach, we knew we had to come out aggressive and play our game. They move the ball very well. [Samuel] Dalembert had a very good game and we didn’t expect that kind of game from him. You have to give him credit and you have to give them credit because they played very good basketball.”

Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson

On the win:
“It was huge for us. It was huge for [Andre Iguodala]. This is going to give us confidence going forward. We still have things to work on; we missed a lot of free throws today. One day that is going to bite us.”

On the team’s learning curve:
“We went on a drought, I think it was a 7-minute drought, where we didn’t score. We just have to get together and work on our half-court game and just executing better.”

On momentum gained from the win:
“It can definitely carry on. We are having a good month. I feel like if we would have lost this game, we would have taken it hard. I am glad we got the win and a huge win like this, momentum is going to be good for us.”

Bucks coach Jim Boylan

On losing the lead in the final five minutes:
“We missed a couple of timely shots, couple things didn’t go in for us. The second half was not a good ball-handling half for us; we turned the ball over too much against a team like this that turns turnovers into points really quick. We couldn’t afford that and unfortunately for us, that’s what we did. We turned the ball over 11 times in the second half and six times in the first half and we had a couple of shots, some timely baskets, that I thought were kind of in and out. We missed a couple of shots we normally make and that combination was deadly for us.”

On the second half:
“Turnovers. We came out a little sloppy in the second half. We knew they were going to come out with some more energy, a little more focus and I am sure George [Karl] got on them a little at halftime. We needed to respond and unfortunately, we turned the ball over a few times and they used it.”

On the final minutes:
“We didn’t execute well. And you have to credit their defense, their team defense. They are aggressive, they played small the whole second half which caused a little bit of a problem for us especially with the guys I would have liked to have had on the floor. Sometimes you can’t have everyone out there because when teams are playing small like that, I like to try to play big and make them pay for it a little bit. The game started getting away from us and we had to adjust and kind of match up to them a little bit more.”

On Samuel Dalembert:
“He is sensational. We don’t see many performances like that from big guys in the league anymore. Rarely do they put up those kinds of numbers. Teams don’t usually let that happen but Sam came out and played great. He was hitting the shots like he has done in the past. He can hit that 15 to 18 foot shot with activity at the basket. Great game by Sam; it really was the difference for us getting that big lead at the half. Hopefully he can build on that and keep moving.”

Bucks center Samuel Dalembert

On his performance:
“It was one of those nights. I tried to make the best of my opportunity out there. The past five games I’ve been able to get into a flow and get some minutes, and tonight it happened to be one of those games. Any offensive player can tell you when you feel the groove of the game you’re in the zone. My mentality today wasn’t to force anything, but see what the game gives me and locate the open area. I was able to do a good job today and the shots were falling.”

On the teams’ performance in the second half:
“The second half; we’ve been talking about it and we were able to get a lot of fast break [points], some of the shots were falling. They [the Nuggets] got some momentum going for them and it was a little too late.”

POSTGAME NOTES

INDIVIDUAL

• Ty Lawson recorded 22 points and seven assists, the fourth time he has reached those totals this season. Lawson shot 50 percent or better in all four occurrences, with the Nuggets moving to 3-1 in those games. Additionally, it is the seventh time in the last 11 games that Lawson has scored 20+ points (Denver 6-1 in those games). In his career, the Nuggets are 16-4 at the Pepsi Center when Lawson scores 20+.

• Corey Brewer scored 20 points off the bench, the fifth time he has reached that mark this season. Additionally, it is the 24th time he has led the bench in scoring this year.

• Wilson Chandler registered a season-high 10 rebounds tonight, his biggest performance on the glass since 3/21/12 vs. DET when he also had 10. It is only the 16th time in his career he has recorded 10+ boards (only second time coming off the bench).

• Corey Brewer and Ty Lawson both set season highs in free throw makes and attempts. Brewer made seven of his nine tries, the most since Dec. 14, 2010, while Lawson connected on nine of his 11 free throws, his most since March 2, 2012.

• Kenneth Faried scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds en route to his 32nd career double-double (20th this season). The Nuggets improve to 20-1 all-time at the Pepsi Center when Faried records a double-double. Additionally, the effort snaps the longest streak of the season for the second-year forward without recording a double-double (five games).

• Danilo Gallinari scored 22 points and recorded six rebounds in the win. The Nuggets improve to a perfect 14-0 at the Pepsi Center when Gallinari scored 20+ points. Additionally, it is only the fifth time this season Gallinari has recorded 22+ points and six-or-more boards. In his last 15 games, Gallinari has scored 20+ points eight times and is averaging 20.1 ppg.

• Milwaukee’s Samuel Dalembert scored a career-high 35 points on 17-of-21 shooting, the most of any player off the bench during the 2012-13 NBA season, narrowly edging out Ben Gordon’s 34-point performance against the New Orleans Hornets (Nov. 9).

• With his 35 points and 12 rebounds off the bench, Dalembert joins Darius Miles (April 19, 2005) and Ron Anderson (April 4, 1989) as the only players to achieve these totals in NBA history coming off of the bench. Dalembert is the only player in NBA history to record 35 points and 12 rebounds while shooting above 80 percent from the field as a reserve.

TEAM

• The Nuggets beat the Bucks 112-104 tonight, extending their winning streak to a season-long seven games. It is Denver’s longest win streak since they won seven straight from 11/20/10 to 12/5/10.

• Denver has now won 30 of their last 32 home games when scoring 100 points or more and are 14-1 on the year when scoring 110+ points.

• The Nuggets trailed by 15 points at halftime before coming back to win. The comeback is tied for the eighth largest halftime deficit overcome in team history and their largest since they trailed by 18 at half in a win at L.A. Clippers on 10/31/08.

• Tonight was the Nuggets’ third comeback of 17 points this season (at DET on 12/11 and at MIN on 11/21). Additionally, it was Denver’s eighth comeback of 10-or-more points this season.

• The Nuggets registered 29 points off turnovers compared to the Bucks’ 17 and are now 20-3 when outscoring their opponent in points off turnovers.

• The Nuggets outrebounded the Bucks 53 to 44 tonight, improving to 15-1 when outrebounding their opponent at home. They are now 12-2 on the year when collecting 50+ boards.

• Denver registered 22 second chance points and are now 13-2 when they have 20-or-more second chance points.

• The Nuggets shot 27-of-37 from the free throw line and are 11-1 when attempting 30+ free throws.

• Gallinari (22), Lawson (22) and Brewer (20) all had 20 + points and Denver is now 11-4 when two-or-more players have 20+.