Nene, Gallinari come up big as Nuggets beat Hawks in OT
Attending recent Nuggets games at Pepsi Center has become crazier than spending a week on the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange.
Wild fluctuations, waves of emotion, dejection and celebration – sometimes all in a span of 30 minutes.
Denver’s two losses since the All-Star break have been by a combined four points. Two of their past three victories have been in overtime – again by a combined four points.
In addition to being highly entertaining, the close games could prove to be an investment that pays dividends at the end of April.
“It becomes a good learning experience,” Nuggets shooting guard Arron Afflalo said. “You expect playoff games to be tight. It’s good to deal with adversity in wins and losses throughout the regular season if it benefits you in the long run.”
The latest learning experience took place Tuesday night as the Nuggets hung on for a 118-117 overtime victory against the Atlanta Hawks.
Denver big man Nene made two go-ahead free throws with 26.6 seconds left in OT, and the Nuggets were able to celebrate when Atlanta forward Zaza Pachulia could not convert a potential game-winning layup at the buzzer.
“We’ve definitely had games where it seemed like we had bad luck. Tonight, our luck changed a little bit,” Denver forward Al Harrington said. “He missed that layup. It was just meant for us to win tonight.”
The end of regulation was equally harrowing. After Corey Brewer forced a turnover with 9 seconds remaining, Danilo Gallinari hit an improbable fadeaway three-pointer to give Denver a 105-104 lead with 3.9 seconds to go.
With the Nuggets needing one final stop, Brewer was called for a foul on Kirk Hinrich, who made the tying free throw but missed the potential game-winner with 1.1 seconds left.
“Atlanta had great moments, we had great moments,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “There were so many twists to that game. Gallo makes a great shot, and they miss a free throw. We won it, they won it, we won it, they won it, we won it. Ping-pong back and forth.
“I thought we just trusted ourselves and believed we were going to figure out something to win the game.”
The Nuggets (24-19) improved to 3-2 on their nine-game homestand and 6-2 since the All-Star break. Their next challenge will be Thursday when they face the Oklahoma City Thunder, which blew an 11-point lead in the final three minutes of a one-point home loss to the Houston Rockets on Tuesday.
“I forget who we’ve got Thursday,” Karl joked. “A pretty good basketball team. They’ll come in here angry.”
While the Thunder might be angry, the Nuggets are getting healthy.
Reserve guard Rudy Fernandez (five points, four rebounds, three assists) gave them some quality minutes off the bench Tuesday after missing 11 games with a lower back strain, while Gallinari and Nene had their best games since returning from injury a week ago.
Gallinari, who scored a total of 18 points in four games following his return from a sprained ankle, finished with 19 against Atlanta. Nene added 22 and made all six of his free-throw attempts, included the final two that put Denver ahead for good.
“Gallo was out for a long time. I was out for a long time. Rudy just got back, too,” Nene said. “We need to be patient because it takes time to read offensively and get in game shape. Gallo was phenomenal. It’s good to have the team all together.”
The good feelings were nearly extinguished by the Hawks, who got 34 points from Joe Johnson and 33 from Josh Smith.
After Johnson missed a tough shot with 4.5 seconds left, the rebound went out of bounds off Nene. A video review proved inconclusive, giving the Hawks a final possession.
“This inconclusive evidence is driving me crazy,” Karl said. “I need a better lawyer.”
Given new life, the Hawks were in position to win when Hinrich found Pachulia all alone in the middle of the lane on the inbounds pass. Gallinari scrambled to challenge Pachulia’s shot, which bounced off the backboard and never hit the rim.
“Zaza was wide open,” Gallinari said. “I saw him going to the basket, so at the last moment I challenged it. I jumped and tried to make the shot difficult.”
After all, nothing comes easy at the Pepsi Center these days.