I can finally exhale.
After checking the scoreboard and seeing the Dallas Mavericks fall to the Memphis Grizzlies, I knew that the Nuggets needed this game desperately if they were to secure home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. All seemed lost after referee Ed "Got Money On This One" Malloy called a foul on Evan Fournier during a 3-point attempt by Monta Ellis (38 points, 4 assists, 3 steals) who then converted the four point play to give the Bucks a one-point lead with just 14 seconds remaining.
Yet in what I can only see as a "leader's shot", Ty Lawson (26 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 5 turnovers) hit an absurdly clutch 11 foot jumper to give the Nuggets the lead for good. Ty could have deferred to one of his teammates, but as we've seen in his efforts against Oklahoma City, he's finally taking the reins of this team. He stepped up in a major way, broke Monta Ellis' ankles and drained the jumper to give this team the victory.
This had to have been one of the ugliest wins I've seen the Nuggets steal this year. Despite clearly out-talenting the Bucks, the Nuggets were unable to convert a series of easy looks around the rim all game long. Corey Brewer (0-6), Andre Miller (2-12) and Kosta Koufos (3-9) shot a combined 5-27 and nearly cost the Nuggets the game with their inability to put the ball in the hoop. It was extraordinarily frustrating to watch J.J. Redick and Ellis come off screen after back screen and nail open jumpers that they've largely been missing since the All-Star break, but I was overall pretty happy with the Nuggets defensive effort tonight. They closed out - for the most part - kept their hands up and forced the Bucks into an ugly 12-35 from beyond the arc. Even though they put up 112 points, the Nuggets simply were unable to convert shots they normally make in their sleep.
Denver also turned the ball over 17 times and missed fourteen free throws in a one point game. I'm glad the Nuggets are getting "the bads" out of their system in these last few games before the first round, because there is no way they can expect to succeed with their lax ball security, inability to hit their easy looks in the paint and a collective allergy to the free throw line that's characterized their play in the last three games.
Special credit tonight to JaVale McGee, who collected a team-high 17 rebounds while scoring 10 points in 28 minutes. He was extraordinarily active on the glass and gobbled up the boards normally firmly within Kenneth Faried's mitts. There were definite signs of fatigue late in the game - 28 minutes is probably pushing it for McGee - but he contributed extremely well in his time on the floor. Andre Iguodala continues to remain a triple double threat, filling up the stat sheet with 13 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal with just 1 turnover. He seems to have found confidence in his outside shot (draining a huge three pointer with 6:07 to play) and is whipping passes into the paint at Jorge de la Rosa-like speed.
It's hard to let what should have been a much easier victory bother me too much, though - the Nuggets were on the second night of a back to back and on the road, missing their team motor in Faried (not to mention Danilo Gallinari) and had all the pressure on them to come away with the win. We got to see more significant minutes from a clearly blossoming Evan Fournier (12 points, 3 assists), Wilson Chandler continued his fusion-reactor like efficiency and the Nuggets guaranteed themselves home court advantage in the first round.
The Nuggets set another franchise record tonight at 56 wins and have a day of rest before their final contest versus the cellar-dwelling Phoenix Suns on Wednesday at the Pepsi Center.
Opposition's take: Brew Hoop