Captain Kenyon fights off flu, helps Nuggets KO Celtics
Towel over his head, Kenyon Martin bent his body forward and rested his cheek on his arms as he kept tabs on the action unfolding in front of him.
He hardly looked like someone capable of making an impact in the fourth quarter of a physical NBA game.
Turns out, Martin was simply preparing to go viral on the Boston Celtics.
With his former Nuggets co-captains Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups now playing for New York, Captain K-Mart fought off the effects of the flu and put together a performance to remember Thursday night at the Pepsi Center.
Martin scored a season-high 18 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and made three big defensive plays late in the fourth quarter of Denver’s impressive 89-75 victory over the East-leading Celtics.
“Did you see Kenyon out there?” Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson said. “He had new life.”
Plenty of people have tried to give Martin up for dead.
The 33-year-old has come back from microfracture surgery on each knee, and he missed the season’s first 26 games while recovering from surgery to repair a torn patella tendon in his left knee.
He might not be the same high-flying player who was drafted first overall in the 2000 NBA Draft, but Martin remains a smart and tenacious defender who can also finish around the rim and hit the mid-range jump shot.
“I’m not a slouch, man,” he said. “People act like I don’t know how to play basketball. I know how to play.”
Martin missed Denver’s morning shootaround because he wasn’t feeling well and needed two IV bags at halftime. After coming out of the game near the end of the third quarter, it looked as though he was done for the night.
When Boston power forward Kevin Garnett checked back into the game with 3:57 to go, Nuggets coach George Karl summoned Martin to follow suit.
“George wanted as many minutes as I could get on K.G. as possible,” Martin said. “Suck it up. Just be a man. That’s what I get paid to do. It’s mind over matter sometimes.”
Martin’s mental toughness showed in the final four minutes.
In that time, he scored seven points, forced Garnett to miss two jumpers and stole the ball from Ray Allen to start a fast break that ended with Arron Afflalo’s game-clinching three-point play.
“He was fantastic defensively and he made some shots,” Karl said. “Kenyon’s defense and his pride to demand everybody play at his level has always been a part of his personality.”
Martin flashed a wry smile when asked if his leadership skills were sometimes overshadowed by the play of Anthony and Billups.
“I’ve been a leader of this team,” he said. “Melo’s a great player and Chauncey’s a great player, but you ask anybody around here who’s the vocal leader, who’s the emotional leader, who talks to everybody and gets everybody to play the right way, it’s me. That’s never going to change.”
Change has been the theme of the week for the Nuggets, who traded Anthony, Billups, Renaldo Balkman, Anthony Carter and Shelden Williams to the New York Knicks as part of a three-team deal on Tuesday.
Denver received five players in return, and three of the new acquisitions – Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari – made their debuts against Boston.
Chandler scored 16 points off the bench and hit a go-ahead three-pointer that sparked a 16-0 run to close the game. The Celtics went 0-for-8 and committed three turnovers in the final 6:05.
“Defense is everything,” Afflalo said. “That’s going to potentially give you a chance to win in the playoffs and win against a good team.”
Considering the circumstances of a chaotic week, the victory qualified as Denver’s biggest of the season. The Nuggets (34-25) have now won three straight games and are poised to prove that they can still contend in the Western Conference without Anthony and Billups.
“I think we’re going to be better than people think we’re going to be, and I think we’re going to be really good by the end of the year,” Karl said. “Somehow, some way, we got to fight our way into the playoffs.
“I think it’s the deepest team I’ve ever had here. I have 12 guys who can play basketball, maybe 14. That’s usually too many, but that’s a nice problem to have.
” Karl used a 10-man rotation against the Celtics and will probably do the same tonight when the Nuggets close a back-to-back set at Portland. Denver is tied with New Orleans for the No. 5 seed in the West and leads sixth-place Trail Blazers by just one game.
Based on their first two games without Anthony and Billups, the Nuggets don’t plan on conceding anything to their West rivals.
“We’re not going to stop playing because they’re not here,” Martin said. “We’ve got pride. As long as I put this uniform on day-in and day-out, I’m going to make sure these guys play hard. It’s up to us to keep going.”