Nuggets overcome fatigue, slow start to beat Milwaukee
Denver wraps up back-to-back-to-back set with gutty victory
And on the sixth day, they willed themselves to victory.
Playing their third game in as many nights and fifth game in six nights, the Nuggets overcame fatigue and the absence of starting power forward Nene to grind out a 91-86 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night at Pepsi Center.
Danilo Gallinari scored 21 points and grabbed six rebounds in the game’s final 5 minutes, 11 seconds, while Al Harrington complemented his 17-point performance with a big defensive stop on Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut down the stretch.
“When you play three games in three nights, the third one is very tough, especially when you play the first two games against the Lakers,” Gallinari said. “You get to the third game and it’s not easy for anybody. To keep the home-court winning steak going, it was really important for us to win the game.”
One night after closing with a 11-0 run to beat the Los Angeles Lakers, the Nuggets held the Bucks to 12 points on 5-for-22 shooting in the fourth quarter. Harrington and Gallinari each scored four points as part of an 8-0 run that gave Denver the lead for good with 4:01 to play.
Milwaukee had two chances to retake the lead in the game’s final minute, but Stephen Jackson missed a wide-open jumper and Bogut could not muscle his way past Harrington.
Despite giving up three inches and 10 pounds to Bogut, Harrington forced the 7-foot Australian into a tough shot that helped the Nuggets preserve their seventh straight home win, dating to last season.
“Al was pretty incredible,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Even though he gave us a good offensive night, Al falling into (the defensive assignment on) Bogut wasn’t in the game plan. We were fortunate. I thought he covered him really well.”
Nene normally would have drawn the assignment on Bogut in crunch time, but he sat out with a bruised left foot. Nene plans to get treatment Tuesday and hopes to return to the lineup Wednesday against the Sacramento Kings.
With Nene out, Kosta Koufos started at power forward and gave the Nuggets a solid 19 minutes, scoring eight points and grabbing six rebounds. Karl also called upon reserve small forward Corey Brewer, who responded with 10 points in 15 minutes.
“We’re built for (a difficult schedule) because we’ve got a lot of guys who can play,” Brewer said. “We feel we can give positive minutes and help the team win. I was happy to go out there and help the team any way I could.”
With fresh legs, Brewer helped bring some energy to the court after the Nuggets got off to a sluggish start. He scored five points in the final two minutes of the first quarter to help Denver prevent the Bucks from expanding upon an early eight-point lead.
Milwaukee threatened to pull away again in the second quarter, but the Nuggets closed the half with an 11-4 run to tie the game at 48.
The final 24 minutes was simply a battle of wills as the Nuggets displayed their mental toughness by forcing turnovers, keeping Milwaukee off the glass and getting out in transition. Despite the heavy workload over the previous six days, Denver outrebounded the Bucks 49-38 and finished with 24 fast-break points.
“My attitude going into the game, I was hoping for more of Nuggets basketball,” Karl said, “but there’s going to be another five or 10 of these where you have to figure out how to win by playing gutty basketball. I think that’s what we did tonight.”
The Nuggets (4-2) finished with a 2-1 record in their back-to-back-to-back set that started with a home-and-home split with the Lakers. They will have one more such stretch when they play at the Los Angeles Clippers, home against the Lakers and at Portland from Feb. 2-4.
Until then, the Nuggets will catch their breath and then get back to work Wednesday against Sacramento.