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Energy-Filled Nuggets Overcome Adversity, Collect Impressive Road Win
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – There were any number of reasons the Nuggets could have not been at their best, and any one of them would have been understandable.
They were without their head coach.
They were without their second-leading scorer.
They were without two starters overall.
They were on the second of a back-to-back.
And yet, the Nuggets did not fold. Instead, they thrived. They controlled the game in the second half and waltzed out of the Golden 1 Center on Monday night with a 114-98 victory over the Kings.
"The minute they got off the bus they knew there was a task at hand,” said Wes Unseld, who coached the team in place of suspended head coach Michael Malone. “We were under adverse circumstances and we had no other option than to pull together.”
And pull together they did.
Most of the players didn’t fully know the situation until they were boarding the bus to depart for the game and Malone was outside greeting each one of them to inform them he wouldn’t be there. Some didn’t know until they got into the locker room.
“Coach always comes in and gives energy,” guard Jamal Murray said. “Just looking around, it was quiet for a bit and then, of course, Wes steps up and says something and that’s when I knew he had a different type of energy. Knowing the boost he gave us in L.A., we just wanted to go and get this win for him.”
After they collected arguably the most impressive – and possibly, important – wins of the season, Unseld was presented with the game ball.
“Kenneth (Faried) presented it to me, and it was special,” Unseld said. “Anytime you get in this business you don’t expect circumstances to play out the way they have, and thankfully we were able to take advantage of it tonight.”
Gary Harris’s reaction after making the Nuggets 10th 3-pointer of the night at 9:46 in the fourth said it all – he skipped back, and then jumped to celebrate it with a teammate as the Kings were calling timeout to regroup.
The game wasn’t over, but it kind of was. Sacramento was on their heels. The Nuggets’ confidence had outgrown the size of the arena. They made play-after-play in the fourth quarter to pull away from the victory, which snapped a three-game road losing streak.
The Nuggets outscored Sacramento 67-51 in the second half to get it done. They made 11 3-pointers in the second half. They committed just three turnovers in the second half. It was a dominating performance in which numerous players played starring roles.
Will Barton started at small forward for the injured Wilson Chandler, and he responded with 25 points, including 5-of-6 from the 3-point line. Gary Harris had 20 points in a season-high 38 minutes. Nikola Jokic had 16 points, 14 rebounds and three assists. Murray shook off foul trouble to still score 18 points, and Juancho Hernangomez put in 11 points in a season-high 22 minutes off the bench.
Barton described the effort in one word.
“Perseverance,” Barton said. “Guys stepped up, starting with coach Wes. We were down coach Malone, and coach Wes stepped up and the assistant coaches. Without Paul and Wilson our team stepped up. I felt everybody who got in the game played with great energy and did their job.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter