Revenge tour hits a snag as turnovers, Mayo doom Nuggets
When the Denver Nuggets returned from the All-Star break, they flipped the switch from survival mode to revenge mode.
They polished off the Portland Trail Blazers, who had defeated them twice in the Pacific Northwest.
They opened the month of March with road victories over Houston and San Antonio, avenging February home losses to both teams.
As the roster returned to health, the Nuggets then pulled away from New Orleans to prevent the Hornets from winning twice in Denver in the same season for the first time in franchise history.
With Memphis in town on the second night of a back-to-back set, the Nuggets seemed to have the Grizzlies right where they wanted them.
After losing two heartbreaking games in Memphis – one on a last-second tip-in and the second in overtime – Denver was poised for payback in the lone meeting at Pepsi Center this season.
Instead, the Grizzlies escaped with another one-possession victory that left the Nuggets talking about the one that got away.
Notorious Nuggets killer O.J. Mayo scored 22 points and hit an important three-pointer in the final minute Sunday night to help Memphis beat Denver 94-91 and complete its first-ever season sweep in the 17-year history of the series.
“O.J. was super,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. “He carried us, and he was the man.”
While Mayo inflicted much of the damage, many of Denver’s wounds were self-inflicted – 24 to be exact.
The Nuggets (23-19) committed two dozen turnovers that led to 26 points, with the final miscue coming on their final possession.
Down three in the waning seconds, Arron Afflalo was unable to get a clean shot on the right wing, so he passed the ball to Andre Miller near the top of the key. Mike Conley then came up with a steal that sealed the victory for Memphis (24-16).
“I was actually getting ready to pull up from three right there,” Afflalo said. “I kind of ran into some traffic, so I tried to get the ball to Dre. Turnovers happen. Just fumbled it. Move on to the next game.”
The Nuggets were unable to operate effectively against Memphis’ half-court defense for most of the night. For that reason, coach George Karl chose not to call a timeout when Denver grabbed a rebound with 8.7 seconds left.
Better to attack right away than allow the Grizzlies to set up to defend a three, Karl figured.
“In hindsight, I should’ve called a timeout,” Karl said before pausing for a few seconds. “But when you’re calling a lot of plays and scoring at about 0.8 (points) per possession, I was thinking the flow (of pushing the ball upcourt) might be a better option.”
It didn’t help Denver’s cause that starting point guard Ty Lawson was on the bench for the final play because of a strained right foot. Lawson scored only five points – all in the fourth quarter – but committed six turnovers.
“It was tough,” Nuggets forward Corey Brewer said. “They’re an aggressive team. They have good hands. We turned it over a lot.”
Brewer was Denver’s best player Sunday night, scoring 15 points, grabbing six rebounds and making several hustle plays in 29 minutes off the bench. Al Harrington and Nene added 15 points apiece for the Nuggets, who fell to 2-2 on their nine-game homestand.
“We haven’t done a great job (at home) this season,” Afflalo said. “But it’s never too late. We’ve got to keep trying to be effective here and hopefully we get our home winning streak in stride at the right time of the year. That’s all you can ask for.”
Getting Danilo Gallinari back on track would be a step in the right direction.
After coming off the bench for three games following his return from a sprained left ankle, Gallinari started for the first time since Feb. 6. He grabbed five rebounds and flashed his playmaking skills with four assists, but went scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting.
Gallinari, who averaged 17 points before the injury, is averaging 4.5 points on 5-for-25 shooting in his four games since returning.
“I’m sure he’s frustrated,” Karl said. “I was going to play him a little bit more down the stretch (Sunday), but I just thought Corey was playing at a much higher level.”
Brewer's teammates will have to follow suit Tuesday against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Nuggets and Hawks have not met this season, so revenge will not be on Denver's mind. Just winning.
Notes: Before the game, Karl wore an FC Barcelona jersey as a show of support for Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio, who is out for the season with a knee injury. “I felt bad for Ricky Rubio,” Karl said … The three games between Memphis and Denver were decided by seven points … Mayo is averaging 19.6 points in 12 career games against the Nuggets, second only to the 19.8 he has averaged against the Washington Wizards … Denver center Timofey Mozgov (sprained left ankle) was available but did not play. Reserves Kosta Koufos (knee strain) and Rudy Fernandez (lower back strain) remained sidelined.