Reserves Harrington, Andersen help Nuggets rally past Lakers
Al Harrington dished and Chris Andersen dunked.
As he backpedaled down the court, Harrington smiled at the Denver bench and gave a wink, as if to say: “No problem. We’ve got this.”
With starting big men Nene and Timofey Mozgov in foul trouble Sunday night, Harrington and Andersen made huge contributions off the bench, and the Nuggets finished strong for a 99-90 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Harrington scored 12 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and hit a clutch jumper during an 11-0 run that helped Denver rally past the Lakers one day after falling to Los Angeles at Staples Center. Andersen added 12 points and nine rebounds for the Nuggets (3-2).
“Al and Bird saved us tonight,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “There was a searching there for a while when Nene and Timo got into foul trouble. It actually worked out really well.”
At one point late in the first half, Harrington grabbed an offensive rebound, muscled his way around traffic and found Andersen for an uncontested dunk. That’s when Harrington gave his coaches a wink.
“All the coaches were telling me to take it back out,” Harrington said. “I just went and passed it to Bird for the dunk. That’s why I winked at the bench.”
At that point, it looked as though the Nuggets might use their speed and young legs to run away from the more experienced Lakers, but Los Angeles erased an 11-point halftime deficit behind another monster game from center Andrew Bynum.
After recording 29 points and 13 rebounds on New Year’s Eve, Bynum posted 18 points and 16 rebounds in his first game of 2012. The Nuggets, however, held Kobe Bryant to 16 points on 6-of-28 shooting. He also committed six turnovers.
“We were just trying to be aggressive on (Bryant) all the time and try to make him take some bad shots,” Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari said. “It’s tough when you play defense against him. He can make tough shots, but we did a pretty good job.”
Gallinari took advantage of Bryant on several occasions, leaking out on the fast break and getting behind the Los Angeles defense. Andre Miller (12 points, seven assists) and Ty Lawson (17 points, 10 assists) each found Gallinari for transition buckets during Denver’s late-game surge.
“They were really, really big baskets,” Gallinari said. “That’s our style. We want to run all the time. We want to outrun teams, especially when teams are really tired in the fourth quarter.”
Despite another tough night from three-point range (1-for-7), Gallinari led the Nuggets with 20 points and finished with a career-high five steals. Two of the thefts occurred as Denver limited the Lakers to 19 points in the fourth quarter.
The active defense also helped the Nuggets hold Los Angeles scoreless for the game’s final 2:47. Denver has now won six of the past nine meetings with the Lakers.
“We always have a good game against the Lakers,” Andersen said. “They’re one of the best teams in NBA history and all the guys love playing against that competition. It brings out the best in us.”
The victory was a confidence boost for a young team that was unable to protect fourth-quarter leads in back-to-back road losses in Portland and Los Angeles. After falling behind by three points Sunday night, Denver put together a 14-2 finishing sprint.
“I think the key was defensively,” Harrington said. “We got stops and were running. That’s the one thing the Lakers don’t want you to do. They like to play slow and methodical. That’s how they keep the scoring so low. It was just about getting stops and rebounding.”
The Nuggets will try to keep pushing the envelope Monday when they complete a back-to-back-to-back stretch against the Milwaukee Bucks at Pepsi Center.