JaVale McGee makes Nuggets debut, slams door on Pistons
Newly acquired center scores game-winner off missed free throw
Arron Afflalo was never so happy to miss a free throw.
He had new teammate JaVale McGee to thank for that.
Playing his first game in a Nuggets uniform, McGee made his Pepsi Center debut a memorable one when he slammed home Afflalo’s miss with five seconds remaining to lift Denver to a 116-115 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night.
“I’m kind of happy I missed it, considering the play JaVale made,” Afflalo said. “Forget my free-throw percentage. If we can put a ‘W’ in the column, that’s everything.”
McGee, traded from the Washington Wizards to Denver last week, finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots to help the Nuggets overcome 45 points from Pistons guard Ben Gordon.
His biggest play came after Afflalo scored on a spinning drive to the hoop and was fouled with 5.6 seconds to play. On the ensuing free throw, McGee made a great move to get into the middle of the lane and time the rebound perfectly as it bounced off the rim. “I didn’t think Arron was going to miss the free throw,” he said. “But if he did, as long I went in hard, I would be able to get the tip-in or at least a tip-out. I was just wide open. I was trying not to goal-tend it and I just dunked it.”
The Pistons had a final chance to win the game, but Gordon’s 21-foot jumper from the left wing hit the back of the rim just before the buzzer. He finished 9-for-9 from three-point range, tying the NBA record he already shared with Latrell Sprewell for most three-pointers without a miss.
“He got a great look at it,” Afflalo said of the Gordon’s final shot. “I didn’t want him to get to the basket. I was hoping I could just contest his jump shot. It was just long. Very fortunate, very fortunate. If he made that … it would have put the stamp on his night.”
Instead, it put a stamp on a wild nine-game homestand for the Nuggets (26-21). After going 5-4, they now embark on a seven-game road trip that starts Friday in Utah.
“I saw a lot of good basketball through (Wednesday’s) game,” Denver coach George Karl said. “We just have to go on the road and try to win some games, try to win as many as we can.”
The Nuggets were poised to hit the road in style after making 16-of-19 shots and scoring a season-high 40 points in the opening quarter against the Pistons.
The lead ballooned to 25 points in the first two minutes of the second quarter before Gordon started to catch fire. Starting in place of injured teammate Rodney Stuckey, Gordon hit five three-pointers and scored 21 points in the quarter to help the Pistons pull within five by halftime.
Gordon, averaging 11.5 points entering the game, picked up where he left off in the third quarter, adding three more three-pointer and 15 points. He managed just three points in the game’s final 12 minutes as the Nuggets did a better job switching on screens, but he finished with eight assists.
“The guy was freaking off the charts,” Detroit coach Lawrence Frank said. “He was great. Not only did he make shots, he made plays. You can’t say enough positive adjectives about the job that he did. He was phenomenal.”
While the bulk of Detroit’s offense came from Gordon, the Nuggets got 25 points from Ty Lawson, 23 from Afflalo and 16 from Al Harrington. Wilson Chandler added 11 points and 10 rebounds in his second game since signing a new contract on Sunday.
Lost in the statistics was Denver's ability to hold Detroit scoreless for the game's final two minutes and Karl’s decision to have McGee on the floor for nearly the entire fourth quarter. The 7-footer did not play at all against Dallas on Monday.
“I definitely feel like I got some trust from the coach in the fourth quarter,” McGee said. “I’m happy about it, and I’m glad we got the win. That’s the most important thing.”