What a game. The short-handed Denver Nuggets overcame a poor shooting game with effort and determination down the stretch to hand the playoff-slotted Dallas Mavericks a 116-114 loss in Denver. Kenneth Faried, playing center in a small lineup for large stretches of the second half, had himself a monster game with 25 points and 20 rebounds and several momentum changers the way the best Manimal games always have. Emmanuel Mudiay had 16 points, 8 rebounds and a game-sealing block while Nikola Jokic had a first-half double-double before foul trouble sidelined him for much of the second half. Will Barton and D.J. Augustin were the only players who showed up from the bench, but they both had crucial roles down the stretch. Dirk Nowitzki's 30 point effort went in vain as Denver beat Dallas up on the glass 58-46 and refused to pack it in until the home court fans went home happy.
Denver started 0-for-3 from the field before Sampson hit a layup with two minutes gone. The Mavericks went inside to Zaza but neither team could shoot in the early going. Mudiay rattled out a few shots (he was 0-for-5 in the first) and Faried blew a layup, but the Nuggets went up 7-6 on a Faried follow-up jam of a Harris miss. Denver outrebounded Dallas early, doing a good job of allowing just one shot to Dallas and turning them over. A beautiful Mudiay-to-Harris-to-Faried dunk put Denver up 13-8, but the bricks continued for both teams. Joffrey Lauvergne's dunk made it 17-12 but Dirk's 3 point play brought it within two. Dallas only had two real contributors as David Lee did a bunch of damage inside with 8 points and Dirk added 9 of his own, but Barton's hook in the paint put Denver up 22-19 after one.
The second quarter started the same way, with Denver missing shots and Lee keeping Dallas in it. J.J. Barea hit back-to-back layups to put Dallas up 26-25 against Denver's bench. The Nuggets went on a foul-and-turnover binge and no one could stop Barea's penetration. Mudiay and Harris came back in a little earlier than usual and Gary immediately hit a layup, while Mudiay dropped in a free throw and a jumper to power an 8-2 Nuggets run and take back the lead at 35-32. With the Mavs playing a lot of zone, Mike Miller had several minutes in the quarter to help Denver's spacing, but Denver's fouls and mistakes hurt as Dallas pulled back out to a 41-38 lead. Dirk's flagrant foul on Jokic was a momentum-turner though and led to 4 foul shots on one possession. Then Jokic's steal ended with a Mudiay 3 and a 47-43 Denver lead. Both teams showed good energy to end the period but Faried kept hitting dunk after dunk (15 points in the half) and his goaltend hyped up the crowd just from the effort. Mudiay calmly drained a walk-up 3 at the end of the half and put Denver up 57-50.
Dirk hit a three to open the third, but Mudiay answered with one of his own. Faried's bounce was great on both ends with rebounds and a tip-in to push it to 62-53 in favor of the home team. Jokic missed a couple of threes but had a nice block and made a nice post up as well. Dirk sank yet another three to keep Dallas close, but Sampson (of all people) answered back. Two teams that couldn't make any threes in the first 18 minutes started lighting it up from downtown. Matthews made two threes that cut it to 69-64. Jokic had two silly fouls in about a minute in the middle of the quarter which took him out of the game, and the offense would suffer greatly. Harris hit a bucket and Mudiay had a showtime alley oop to Sampson that took the lead back to 9 but without Jokic the offense became more iso-heavy, and Lauvergne and Barton played together like they'd never met (per usual). The Mavs kept hitting threes and Denver couldn't make shots as Dallas tied the game at 73 with two minutes left in the quarter. Joffrey then had to leave with 5 fouls and after an 11-0 run by Dallas, the Mavericks took a 79-77 lead into the 4th.
Dallas opened with a 4-guard-and-Dirk lineup and immediately hit a layup. Denver responded with Faried at center, but a pair of threes from Barea - against whom Augustin was useless - and another three from Dirk put Dallas up 9, 90-81. Mudiay came back for D-Leaguer Toupane with 9 minutes left in regulation and Faried's rebound over Dirk changed momentum again. Mudiay to Barton off a steal cut it to 5. The Mavs then hit their tenth three of the second half. Why does every team roll into Denver and rain death from behind the arc? Faried single-handedly manhandled the boards for Denver but no one in a Nuggets uni could hit a shot. Fouls still weren't called on the Mavericks on Denver drives, so Harris hit a three instead to get it to 93-90 and an Augustin three capped a 10-0 run. Deron Williams then found his game in a big way, hitting back-to-back threes for Dallas. Barton hit a free throw and a runner to make Denver the first to 100 and giving them a 1 point lead with 1:21 to go. Williams nailed another three and a layup that made it 104-102 for Dallas, and it seemed like another game the Nuggets would give away late. Mudiay missed a tough shot after another foul non-call and Deron scored another bucket. Barton's foul shots pulled the game within two... and then the inbounds steal and Faried slam gave new live to a dying team and propelled the game to overtime. Just an amazing play and turn of events.
Dallas regrouped, though, and Dirk opened overtime with a two point bucket while Mudiay missed a pair of shots for Denver. Barton slashed for two but missed a pullup. Denver's defense was strong, though, until Dirk hit a three to get to 30 points in the game. Denver looked tired, with no sign of Jokic since his fourth foul for much of the extra period. The Nuggets only made one bucket for the first four minutes of overtime but the three by Augustin tied it at 111 with 54 seconds left. Will Barton fouled Wesley Matthews beyond the three point line when Matthews jumped sideways into him (indicative of the refereeing on the night) and he hit all three from the charity stripe. Augustin hit another three to match, though, making up for his defensive woes throughout the game. Mudiay and Williams fought for the last rebound, which went out off of Williams and gave Denver the ball with 16 seconds left. The victory light at the end of the tunnel shone brightly for Denver if they could just close out the game.
Mudiay threw the ball into Augustin and DJ drew a Felton foul and hit two free throws. Jokic got more vertical trying to obstruct the in-bounds play than he had all season and Mudiay blocked the final shot to seal a hard-fought win, 116-114. Check out the Faried hug of Mudiay at the end of this one:
Thoughts: Don't have coherent ones. The game was both thoroughly frustrating and amazingly promising. The guys played HARD even when they weren't playing well, and players stepped up when they had to. Faried had an amazing game even with some defensive lapses against the Amazing Dirk, and just when it looked like the Mavs would win some cool young heads pulled off a victory, with the help of Augustin's late hot streak.
These are the games that show the promise of this young team. In the last game they played, Zach Mikash here at the Stiffs said he'd rather have Denver's young lineup going forward over the Mav's aged one. I agree, and after this game other people should be on that train too.
Congratulations, Nuggets. With the now-learned 20-year-old Mudiay at the helm, Harris knocking down shots and snagging important rebounds, Jokic clearing double-doubles in a half and Faried logging 20-20 games, the future looks bright. Tim Connelly and the rest of Denver's front office will have some calls to make down the line on how to take this young team and make it a good one, but in the meantime games like this are a reminder that good beginnings can be both rough and sweet.
This was pretty sweet - as is this defense by Malone on the Mudiay steal at the end of overtime. Cue Malone victory dancing GIFs!
Malone playing defense on Parsons on the game-tying play https://t.co/4FRKsbCvqi— Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan) March 7, 2016