Nuggets can win – with courage

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - MARK KISZLA Den­ver Post Colum­nist

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-

rate teams.”

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

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