Coming off a devastating overtime loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder the night before, it took another extra period for the depleted Denver Nuggets to escape the Minnesota Timberwolves, 103-101, on Monday night.
The Nuggets began the contest short five rotation players, including Nene Hilario (calf injury), Danilo Gallinari (ankle), Rudy Fernandez (back) and restricted free agent Wilson Chandler – who returned from his stint in China and will resign with the Nuggets- who watched the game with Denver executives, patiently waiting for clearance to play. So the outcome of Monday’s matchup against Ricky Rubio (16 points, five assists) and the Wolves rested on the shoulders of Ty Lawson, Aaron Afflalo and the Nuggets’ reserves.
Things started off slow for Denver in the first half as they lost Lawson (13 points) to a sprained ankle in the second quarter and steadily declined in the third when the Nuggets lost their cool and control of the game. They had a 76-69 advantage, when Andre Miller, who had 12 assists off the bench, became upset over an offensive foul and continued to argue with at the officials. Miller’s lack of restraint ended up costing Denver another player, as his heckling eventually lead to his ejection. Behind Kevin Love’s 22 points and 13 rebounds, the Timberwolves capitalized off the Nuggets miscues and went on an 11-2 run to take the lead. But Denver never wavered. Al Harrington (31 points) was huge off the bench, with an arsenal of shot fakes and body shakes, he wedged his way into the paint for layups and complemented those plays with some crowd-raising 3-pointers. His trey from the right corner tied the score at 93 with 1:37 remaining in regulation, but his teammate Afflalo missed a contested 17-foot jumper at the buzzer that would have given the Nuggets the win. In overtime, Afflalo made sure that if a second opportunity arrived to win the game, he would not miss.
With 33.7 seconds left in the extra period, the four-year veteran guard out of UCLA remained poised as his No. 6 was called upon -again- by Nuggets’ head coach George Karl. This time, Afflalo moved closer to the rim, spinning past the Wolves’ Luke Ridnour (12 points, six assists) and lifted a floater that found the bottom of the net to put Denver ahead for good. Afflalo finished with 20 points and five rebounds and became the Nuggets unsung hero of the evening. Much has been said about Denver’s lack of a closer, since Carmelo Anthony departed for the New York Knicks. And while Afflalo missed the shot in regulation, to only redeem himself in overtime, it looks as if he wants to the man with the ball down the stretch.
“That is the entire battle, who’s willing to want that shot and deal with the consequences,” Afflalo said in the post-game interviews. “I was so [mad] that I missed the first one. My opportunities for those situations have been rare this season. I knew I could get my shot off on Ridnour, without him really thinking he could block my shot. It’s good to win a close one…I don’t have to have a good game going or anything special. I just love the moments.”