DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 30: Will Barton #5 of the Denver Nuggets celebrates the win after the game against the Chicago Bulls on November 30, 2017 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Will Barton's Career Night Leads Nuggets Past Chicago

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

The clock never strikes midnight on Will Barton, the Nuggets’ most confident player. He steps on the court with a couple of beliefs: There’s nothing he can’t do. There’s no one he can’t score on.

And on Thursday night, he proved there’s no game he can’t win.

Barton’s layup with 3.2 seconds left lifted the Nuggets to a much-needed victory, 111-110 over Chicago at the Pepsi Center. His best night on a basketball court saw him do all of this:

- Score a career-high 37 points

- Make a near career-high tying six 3-pointers

- Score six points in the final 45 seconds

- Make four of five free throws in the final minute

- Make a game winning shot with time running out.

It was the kind of game players dream of having when they are kids. In one spectacular night, Barton lived out that dream in vibrant color.

“Very fun,” he said. “I just dream of those moments since I was young – having the ball in my hands in crunch time, and delivering.”

Barton’s final delivery, a layup where he started on the right side of the rim drives to the left side and puts the ball off the glass with his right hand, is a shot he says he regularly practices. Barton said Nuggets director of player development, John Beckett, chides him for it.

How’d those conversations go?

“Will, I wish you’d stop doing that,” said a smiling Barton, in his best Beckett voice. “He’s laughing with me. He’s not all the way serious, but he’s a little serious. ‘I wish you’d stop doing that layup, putting so much spin on the ball.’ As soon as I made it, that’s all I was thinking about – let’s make sure we get the win, and I’m going right to JB and say I told you man.”

The Nuggets won. And Barton did.

Meanwhile, it took all 37 of Barton’s points to pull out a game that looked dire early on. The Bulls started the game with a ton of energy and immediately jumped out to a 26-8 lead. Barton, however, led a charge from the bench that helped the Nuggets get back into the game using a 16-3 run. The Nuggets never caught the Bulls in the first half, but kept in contact and had to endure the loss of their leading scorer and rebounder, Nikola Jokić.

Jokić went down late in the second quarter with a sprained left ankle after stepping on a Bulls player’s foot on a drive to the rim. The big man shot free throws and then was taken to the locker room for x-rays. It is the second time in a little more than a week that he has sprained an ankle. He turned his right ankle in a game at Houston on Nov. 22, but was able to return to that contest.

Without Jokić, the Nuggets went small. They put Kenneth Faried at center and started Juancho Hernangomez at power forward to begin the third quarter. And that lineup thrived. Barton was the leader, as he continued to hit shots from everywhere. He was the one player Chicago had no answer for from start to finish, and the Nuggets needed every point he’d score.

And, defensively the Nuggets dug in.

They held Chicago to 40 percent shooting in the fourth quarter and used the momentum to hold them off. Bulls guard Kris Dunn did drive and make a layup with 9.6 seconds to give the Bulls a 110-109 lead.

But all that did was set up Barton’s game winner.

“There’s Will Barton, and there’s Thrill Barton,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “And tonight, you saw Thrill Barton. He was unbelievable.”

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.