Group effort helps Nuggets hold off Minnesota in overtime
The starting point guard left before halftime with a sprained ankle, joining two starting big men already on the injury report. The backup point guard was ejected in the third quarter, leaving a rookie to run the offense.
In a season filled with ankle twists and plot twists, the Denver Nuggets added another crazy chapter to the mix.
Within 24 hours of a gut-wrenching overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Nuggets found themselves in OT again Monday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The heartbreak of OKC was replaced by a heart-stopping 103-101 victory that helped Denver snap a three-game losing streak heading into the final two games leading into a much-needed All-Star break.
“We needed this one,” Nuggets forward Corey Brewer said. “After the two tough losses we had, we had to get this one. We were able to get it. Now we have to build on it.”
The Nuggets (18-15) might have to build momentum without a full crew of construction workers.
Starting point guard Ty Lawson is listed as day-to-day after spraining his left ankle late in the second quarter Monday, and starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo finished the game despite rolling his ankle in the third quarter.
Starting forwards Danilo Gallinari (sprained ankle) and Nene (strained calf) are out indefinitely, while reserve guard Rudy Fernandez missed his second straight game with a strained lower back.
At least veteran point guard Andre Miller will return after being ejected for arguing an offensive foul call late in the third quarter.
With all the missing pieces, reliable sixth man Al Harrington filled the void against Minnesota, scoring nine of his season-high 31 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Afflalo added 20 points, including a leaning jumper that gave Denver the lead for good with 33.7 seconds left in overtime.
“Nobody said it was going to be easy,” Harrington said. “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. Everybody just has to pull their weight a little bit more. When Andre got kicked out, I just told the guys – especially Arron – we’ve got to find a way to take over this game.”
Rookies Kenneth Faried and Julyan Stone accepted the challenge and made solid contributions in a pinch. Faried finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds, while Stone ran the offense for the game’s final 17 minutes.
“That was the perfect game for us,” Stone said. “We’ve been in tough games this whole year and haven’t been able to pull them out. For us to win a game in overtime with everybody down, it’s a win that we needed. It showed our toughness and showed we can go 15 guys deep.”
Both teams were playing the second of back-to-back games and it showed in crunch time. After Afflalo missed a baseline jumper at the end of regulation, neither team scored until Harrington’s fadeaway jump shot 3:08 into overtime.
The Nuggets eventually led by five points with 8.8 seconds left, but the Timberwolves still had a chance to tie the game after Luke Ridnour made two free throws and Martell Webster stole an inbounds pass with 3.9 second remaining.
Instead of pulling up for a three-pointer to tie the game, Webster inexplicably drove to the basket for a dunk with 1.3 seconds to go. Brewer made a free throw with 0.5 second left, and Minnesota did not get a final shot at the basket.
“We talked about it in the timeout. If we were able to get a steal, we needed to pull up and make a three,” Timberwolves forward Kevin Love said. “I don’t know what was going through (Webster’s) head.”
Stone, who threw the inbounds pass, wasn’t sure either; he was just glad things turned out the way they did.
“I was like, ‘Thank you.’ That’s all I was thinking,” Stone said. “I’ll never make that mistake again. That’s something you go through as a rookie and a young player.”
The Nuggets will take Tuesday off before flying to Los Angeles for Wednesday’s game against the Clippers. They face the San Antonio Spurs at Pepsi Center on Thursday in the final game before the All-Star break.
Notes: Faried’s 14 rebounds were the most by a Nuggets rookie since Carmelo Anthony grabbed 14 boards twice during the 2003-04 season … In the six games that he has played at least 15 minutes, Faried is averaging 11.2 points and nine rebounds … Harrington’s 29 field-goal attempts were a career-high, as were Afflalo’s 18 attempts … Denver improved to 3-2 in overtime games this season after playing just one OT game in 2010-12. It was the first set of back-to-back overtime games for the Nuggets since 2007-08 … The Nuggets erased a 14-point second-quarter deficit, marking their seventh comeback from at least 10 points this season.