The Denver Nuggets snapped their five-game home losing streak with a monstrous second half effort and the overtime heroics of Danilo Gallinari, storming back from 15 points down at the half to rip the victory away from the Minnesota Timberwolves 111-108. Gallinari had a game-high 23 points including all but 2 of Denver's overtime points, but it was a total team effort with six Nuggets in double figures. Jameer Nelson was a huge key with 20 points, playing almost all of the second half and overtime as Emmanuel Mudiay injured his ankle in the first quarter and did not return after halftime. Kevin Martin and Andrew Wiggins paced the Timberwolves with 22 points apiece, but Karl-Anthony Towns missed a crucial late 3 in overtime, rendering his 14 points and 9 rebounds moot.
The Nuggets hit their first 3 shots of the game but then went cold with a 3-for-15 stretch the remainder of the first quarter. Mudiay injured his ankle after having his foot stepped on, then was called for traveling to add insult to injury. He missed the remainder of the first and played only a few minutes of the second before it became obvious he would not be able to continue. Minnesota hit several threes in the opening minutes but the Nuggets stayed alive by making free throws, going 10-of-14 from the charity stripe in the first. Gallo had a wonderful strip/rebound that led to a nice assist to Jokic but an easy layup allowed to LaVine put Minnesota up 29-23 after one.
It was 34-25 Minny after a converted 3-point play with 2 minutes gone in the second; Denver answered with a turnover, followed by another that raised a smattering of boos from what sounded like the dozens of fans at the Can. Minnesota made their shots in the paint while Denver missed seemingly everything that wasn't a dunk. Gallo bricked a 3 at the buzzer and the Nuggets trailed 56-41 at halftime, having shot 30.8% in the first half but 16-for-20 from the stripe. They only made 12 baskets, going 1-for-10 from 3 while Minnesota went 5-for-11.
The nuggets started the second half with a couple of successful drives but their offense quickly devolved into blocked layups, turnovers and yet bricked shots. And then Saint Jameer made an appearance. Jameer Nelson netted a steal and a layup to cut it to 63-47. Turnovers on defense led to back-to-back-to-back 3s, two for Jameer sandwiched around one of Gallo's and the lead was just 9 for the Timberwolves. The shooting got contagious as Jokic hit a 3. The whole team attacked the glass and moved the ball aggressively, cutting the lead to 4 78-73 after 3 with a 32 point quarter.
Based on their previous pattern the Nuggets would run out of steam in the fourth, but it didn't happen. Foye had to take over at the point in order to buy Nelson a few precious minutes of rest and the team wobbled, but Barton hit a 3 to show some life after a mostly-silent game to that point, Jokic nabbed a rebound and actually powered home a dunk, part of his impressive outing of 19 points and 6 boards. The Nuggets struggled to retake the lead as they moved to a smaller lineup, scoring on offense but unable to keep the Timberwolves out of the paint on the other end. Gary Harris had a good energy game and finally nailed the runner that put the Nuggets ahead 95-94, their first lead since 13-12. The teams swapped the lead back and forth with trips to the free throw line making up a large portion of the offense in the latter stages of the game. Faried was a huge liability there, missing 9 free throws on the night (everyone else was perfect from the line) but his rebounding kept the game tied at 100 as he grabbed a missed free throw from Wiggins in the waning seconds. Jameer wanted to get the last shot and had a three but couldn't make it - when all he needed was one point for the victory - and the Nuggets went to their first overtime game of the year.
Overtime was the Gallo Show, scoring 9 of Denver's 11 points in the frame. He made free throws, a step-back 3, and a turnaround 20-footer with the shot clock running out that put the Nuggets ahead. Towns jacked up a hasty 3 with several seconds left in a vain attempt to tie it and Gallinari grabbed that rebound as well, icing the game with another pair of free throws and giving Denver its most satisfying comeback win this year.
Other shooters showed up. At least for one half, the Nuggets managed to put the ball in the basket. They only managed to sink 9 of 21 shots inside 5 feet in the first half, but somehow drained 10 of 18 from distance in the second half. How a team can make more threes than layups is beyond me, but it worked to chase down Minnesota. This year's Nuggets don't usually win without Gallo and Barton carrying the water, but Barton's 13 points made him only the 5th-highest scorer tonight, and Harris was right behind him with 12. It wasn't necessarily Mudiay's absence that made the shots go down - Jameer just had one of those nights he has every 10 games or so and netted a season-high just when Denver needed it most. I don't know how replicable the output was, but for 30 minutes or so the Nuggets showed they could actually run off their defense, pass to create openings in the defense and wear down another team here in Denver.
Veteran leadership appeared. Without Jameer and Gallo this game is a laugher. They carried this team across the finish line from an offensive perspective, but it was more than that. The communication was there, as was the swagger. They were talking in timeouts before Malone had even arrived to get his two cents in, and Gallo was chatting up a storm in multiple languages all during the overtime. There was passion and determination tonight, two things that have been sorely lacking from this team in too many games this season. It was great to see that passion infect the whole team.
The bench brought the thunder. As Chris Dempsey said:
The #Nuggets bench, which had 52 points, also had 15 of the 21 assists— Chris Dempsey (@dempseypost) December 12, 2015
That counts Jameer's 7 assists off the bench, but Jokic had 4 and Barton had 3 also. They shared the basketball while Gallinari and Jameer made good use of their hot hands. Jokic was all over the place, slamming down put-back dunks and even draining a 3 on the wing. It took Barton a good 3 quarters to warm up but his penetration and shooting were crucial in the comeback. Harris took the floor as a starter coming off a half-dozen games missed due to concussion and logged 44 minutes, so if you want to talk about someone pressed into duty and performing admirably he would be the one. Even in a game that went to overtime, though, two of the bench veterans made their presence felt by not taking the floor. Randy Foye logged just 3 minutes at the start of the 4th quarter to get Jameer a breather and JJ Hickson was a DNP-CD. The bench was as notable for who was not allowed off it tonight, and the players who got on the court all contributed in a big way.
Terrific, team-building win tonight. Emmanuel Mudiay with the ankle issue and perhaps Joffrey Lauvergne (who only played 14 minutes after starting pretty well) are going to have injury concerns, but even as the Nuggets rotate through their hospital ward looking for few healthy bodies at least they can hang their hats on this comeback. THIS is what Denver Nuggets basketball should look like.
Finding a way to replicate it is Michael Malone's task going forward.