Afflalo, Lawson among many stars as Nuggets escape in OT
Denver opens nine-game homestand in thriilling fashion, extends winning streak to four
There are some NBA games that defy adequate description.
Monday night’s game between the Nuggets and Sacramento Kings fits in that category.
Where to start?
Ty Lawson’s game-winning three-pointer in overtime? His third straight double-double (16 points and 13 assists)?
How about Arron Afflalo scoring eight of his career-high 32 points in the final 22 seconds of regulation, including three clutch free throws with 0.6 seconds left to force overtime?
Don’t forget about the presence of Nuggets big men Nene and Danilo Gallinari, who returned to the court after missing significant time with injuries.
And then there’s the high-flying duo of Birdman and Manimal – BirdManimal – who combined for 29 points, 17 rebounds and four blocked shots.
The most important fact of all: the Nuggets prevailed in a heart-pounding 119-116 victory at Pepsi Center to extend their winning streak to four games and open a nine-game homestand on a rollicking note.
“We’ve had two or three games taken from us, and we probably took one from them,” Denver coach George Karl said. “I don’t even know if I want to watch the film because the film might say we lost.”
The Nuggets (22-17) certainly looked dead to rights when they went 0-for-12 from the field over a 7-minute, 51-second stretch of the fourth quarter and trailed by five points with 28.1 seconds remaining in regulation.
Afflalo responded with a driving layup and a three-pointer to cut the lead to one, but the Nuggets still trailed by three after a pair of Isaiah Thomas free throws with 7.6 second left.
Out of timeouts, the Nuggets got the ball to Afflalo on the right wing, and he drew a foul on Marcus Thornton while attempting a three-pointer at the buzzer. After a video review, the officials upheld the call and put 0.6 seconds left on the clock.
Ignoring the incessant chatter from the Kings, Afflalo stepped up and knocked down all three free throws, barely moving the net with each shot.
“I was just locked in, not thinking about anything else,” Afflalo said. “Free throws are based on rhythm and confidence. To knock those three down, those are situations you look forward to that give you confidence throughout the year.”
The Nuggets fell behind by four points in the first 90 seconds of overtime, but fought back to take a two-point lead on Kenneth Faried’s two free throws with 1:10 to go. Tyreke Evans eventually tied the game again on a driving layup with 24.9 seconds remaining, setting the stage for Lawson.
“Coach asked me, ‘Do you want to call timeout or go,’ ” Lawson said. “I said, ‘It’s a tie game, let’s go.’ ”
One night after hitting a clutch 20-footer against the San Antonio Spurs, Lawson found some space on the left side and drained a jumper over Evans with four seconds left.
“That’s a shot I’ve been working on, especially since the All-Star break,” Lawson said. “I’m happy it’s going in. I’m ecstatic that I’m hitting those shots.”
The Kings had a final opportunity to tie the game but Francisco Garcia’s three-point attempt fell well short at the buzzer.
The Pepsi Center erupted and the Nuggets were finally able to exhale after escaping against a young Sacramento team that fell to 12-26 on the season.
“We were fortunate, very fortunate,” Afflalo said. “The intensity we needed early in the game was not there.”
The close call should serve as a motivating tool for the Nuggets as they continue their homestand Wednesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers (13-23).
They also should benefit from the ever-improving health of Gallinari and Nene.
After missing 13 games with a severely sprained left ankle, Gallinari had four points and three rebounds in 17:32. Nene, who missed 10 games with a strained left calf, added six points, four rebounds and two blocked shots in 15:32.
“It’s sore and I feel discomfort, but it feels pretty good,” Gallinari said. “Hopefully it will be better every day and every game will be more comfortable.”
Like Gallinari, Nene came off the bench as Karl left his starting lineup intact. Both received hearty ovations when they checked into the game in the first quarter.
“I was happy to feel the love and energy from the fans,” Nene said. “It was tough without practice to get out there and try to run. I survived.”
And in the end, so too did the Nuggets.
Notes: Afflalo went 10-for-11 from the free-throw line, setting career-highs in attempts and makes; he is averaging 18.5 points over his past 13 games … Lawson has recorded 48 assists and just seven turnovers in the past four games, becoming the first Nuggets player since Nick Van Exel in April 2000 to have at least 48 assists with seven turnovers or less … With a career-high 20 points and 12 rebounds, Faried posted his fifth double-double in his past nine games … Denver beat Sacramento for the seventh straight time at Pepsi Center … The Nuggets are now 4-2 in overtime games this season … Denver center Kosta Koufos missed his second game in a row because of a left knee strain, while guard Rudy Fernandez sat out his eighth straight game with a lower back strain.