WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 23: Will Barton #5 of the Denver Nuggets handles the ball against the Washington Wizards on March 23, 2018 at Capital One Arena in Washigton, DC.
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Barton's Big Fourth Lifts Nuggets to Second Straight Road Win

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With 26.3 seconds left in the game and the Nuggets clinging to a four-point lead, Will Barton stepped to the free throw line. The Wizards fans at Capital One Arena roared to throw him off. One fan, though, wasn’t having any of that.

“Don’t worry, he’s clutch!” the man screamed. “Don’t worry, he’s clutch!”

Truer words hadn’t been spoken all night long.

Barton made those free throws. Then he made two more as part of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, which helped lift the Nuggets to their 40th victory of the season, 108-100 over Washington on Friday night. The win was made even more important given the fact that Utah also lost in overtime at San Antonio, meaning the Nuggets are now just one game back from the eighth spot.

Barton had 23 points in all and every one of his five field goals was a 3-pointer. He was also 8-of-8 from the free throw line in the type of performance he has given on a number of occasions this season.

And yet, Barton has collected an inordinate number of naysayers.

“I think people criticize Will because he’s not the most efficient player at times,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “And I understand that. But Will Barton is a guy that has tremendous self-belief. He’s never afraid of the moment. He wants to be in that moment. He wants the challenge. He has the courage, if you will. The greatest thing about these last two wins is Will has been a big part of them.”

Barton says he shrugs it all off.

“It never gets to me,” he said. “I told you that I feel like on every good team, there has to be a guy that will take the fall. I’m that guy. I realize that, and I embrace that. It’s not going to change the way I play. For people criticizing me, I just say… you never see me going back and forth on Twitter or if you check my Instagram. You never see me comment back with those guys. That comes with the territory. I’m built so strong that it doesn’t even… I’m ready for the next game.

“I just tell them look at the numbers. Why wouldn’t you want somebody shooting who is averaging 15 points per game, shooting 45 from the field, 80 from the (free throw) line and damn near 37 percent from the 3-point line? They say I don’t pass the ball, but I average damn near five assists. I think I average the most assists for the guards on this team. So, you can’t pay attention to that. Everybody is not going to like your game, and that’s fine with me. My job is to go out there and play and be productive. I stay confident. I rise above that. I’m bigger than that.”

Barton and the Nuggets as a whole were bigger than the challenge the Wizards put to them. The Nuggets built an early 14-point lead. But Washington chipped away at it slowly until they took a couple of brief leads themselves in the third quarter.

But the Nuggets had enough to hold them off in the fourth. Nikola Jokic had another big game with 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Jamal Murray got the Nuggets off to a good start with 11 points in the first quarter, which was part of his 25 points overall.

Devin Harris (10 points) and Torrey Craig (11 points) anchored the bench scoring. And the Nuggets played solid defense overall.

“Defense was pretty good,” forward Paul Millsap said. “I think we’re starting to understand that our defense has got to step up. Tonight was a prime example of that. We held a good team down.”

And Barton, with three blocked shots and a steal, was in the mix of the defense as well.

“I’m just going to keep doing my job,” he said. “What do I have to prove to (critics)? Like I said, every good team has a fall guy. On this team, I’m that guy because I’m a risk-taker, I make plays. When you’re a playmaker, sometimes you’re going to mess up and you’re make mistakes. I’m fine with that. My good is going to outweigh my bad.”

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