Nuggets can win – with courage
The Nuggets won’t win the NBA championship. But this is how they can win back hearts in Colorado: Led by the scoring and fueled the passion of forward Danilo Gallinari, Denver beat Golden State 112-110 on Wednesday night, sending the reigning league champion to only its third loss in 39 games this season.
There were a dozen key plays that made the difference in a contest that wasn’t decided until Warriors guard Klay Thompson misfired on a 3-point shot at the buzzer. But let’s focus on the moment when Gallinari refused to lose.
With Denver clinging to a twopoint advantage in the final 30 seconds of the fourth quarter, Gallinari got caught in transition defense against Steph Curry, whose jump shot is the most dangerous offensive weapon in the sport.
On pure guts, Gallo beat Curry, forcing a turnover.
“It’s a broken-court play, he is matched up with the reigning MVP, and you know what? Gallo has proven this year that he can guard most players on the floor,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “He did a great job. He got into a stance, forced a deflection, was first to the floor and comes up the loose ball. Those are winning plays. Those are what sepa-
Captain Obvious can tell you the Nuggets don’t have the talent of Golden State. What gives Denver a chance to sneak into the playoffs in a weakened Western Conference, however, is the neversay-quit grit that Malone has cultivated in his team.
Know what was sweet? The mighty Warriors were incensed they got upset by the lowly Nuggets.
“For a championship team, with what we’re trying to accomplish, in my opinion, we didn’t play hard enough and we didn’t play smart enough,” fumed Golden State coach Luke Walton.
Like many in the front-running crowd unabashedly wearing “The City” attire, I went to arena in anticipation of watching Golden State forward Draymond Green, a triple-double machine that Malone insists might be the Warriors’ most valuable player, with all due respect to Curry.
But here’s the truth: The NBA’s reigning champion did not take the Nuggets seriously. Coming off a 22-point performance against Miami, Green was told: His services wouldn’t be needed in Denver. Leave the sneakers in the locker room. Take the night off.
And could anybody really blame Walton for channeling his inner Gregg Popovich by giving Green a break for routine maintenance? Entering the game with a 6-11 record at home, Denver had earned a reputation as one of the softest spots on the NBA road.
I asked Walton if he considered both the schedule and the opponent before telling Green to watch the game in street clothes.
“It’s definitely a combination, with our schedule coming up. As much as we’d like to rest (Green) in another game, he’s not going to want to sit out for this stretch coming up. He never wants to sit out,” Walton said.
Translation: The Warriors didn’t think they needed their A-team to beat Denver.
With a restoration project as big as the Nuggets, we are told it’s all about the process. But nobody pays 75 bucks to watch paint dry on a rebuilding job. The people of Denver have spoken: With an average attendance of 14,043 in the Pepsi Center, the Nuggets rank dead last in the 30-team league.
At some point, the consumer must be shown a modicum of respect. And the Nuggets have to be more about trying to win than teaching rookie Emmanuel Mudiay how to play basketball during games that count in the standings.
Before tipoff, Malone was coy about his starting point guard, saying he would have to consult his Magic 8-Ball. But consult any advanced basketball metric in your smart phone and it’s obvious that at age 19, Mudiay is the worst point guard in the league. If the Nuggets want to win, is there any question veteran Jameer Nelson should be the team’s starter at the point? As the Magic 8-ball would say: It is decidedly so.
Ahead 109-102 with precisely 60 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Denver had to withstand a furious comeback by Golden State. Leading the rally was — who else? — Curry. He scored 20 of his 38 points in the final period, including a jaw-dropping shot from nearly 35 feet away that Curry appeared to be lining up as soon as he crossed the halfcourt stripe with the basketball.
The Nuggets, however, refused to fold.
Please don’t tell the Nuggets this victory was any less meaningful because the Warriors played without Green, the best defensive player in the NBA.
“I don’t really care. Sit whoever you want,” Denver forward Kenneth Faried said. “We won the game. That’s what matters.”
Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari, center, forces Golden State Warriors star guard Stephen Curry to turn the ball over in the final seconds Wednesday night as both fall to the Pepsi Center floor. Gallinari scored 28 points to lead Denver’s victory, and Curry had a game-high 38. Brent Lewis, The Denver Post