In a refreshing change of pace, the Denver Nuggets were in full control of Friday night’s win over the Orlando Magic for the entire fourth quarter. There will be no stories, blog posts, or tweets about the team’s execution down the stretch of the 112-87 win at the Pepsi Center. This one was well in hand in the final minutes, so well in hand that head coach Michael Malone deployed the third string to close it out.
Thomas Welsh—he prefers Tom—the 58th pick of the 2018 NBA Draft, and one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet, checked into a largely uneventful game with little meat on its bone. With three minutes remaining, he launched a three-pointer. It was a shot of no consequence regarding the result, but it was one that he’ll remember for the rest of his life.
The shot fell and Welsh registered the first three points of his NBA career.
“Man, it was awesome,” Welsh told the media after the game, wearing a smile he couldn’t contain. “To have a moment like that and just be able to run down the court and look at my guys on the bench—that was surreal. A very, very cool moment.”
Welsh has been lauded by teammates and coaches for his approach to a limited role on a two-way contract. As is to be expected for a player in his shoes, he’s been tasked with cheering from the end of the bench more often than he’s been tasked with playing basketball. But that hasn’t stopped him from finding ways to contribute. He’s embraced his exiguous responsibilities at the highest level and has been described by more than one member of the team as the loudest guy on the court during practice.
After the shot fell, he turned to the bench, his tongue dangling, three fingers flashed, and couldn’t hold off a smile as his teammates went wild. Suddenly, this had become Tom Welsh’s night.
“I wanted to get those first points,” Welsh admitted to reporters. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about. And to see them cheering for me, it only made it that much better of a moment.”
“I think it’s a family,” Welsh explained when asked to describe the team’s chemistry. “I think that’s the best way to describe it. When I came in, it was evident from day one. And you never know what to expect from a professional team, but I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys. This has been incredible.”
A member of the second generation of two-way players, Welsh won’t spend his entire rookie season with the Nuggets. He’s already played four games in the G-league with the Washington City Go-Go, where he’s averaging 8 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists in 18.1 minutes per game.
“I think I learned a ton in the little time I’ve spent down there,” Welsh told the media. “I’m probably going to go back there before too long, but it’s a great opportunity for me. That’s the way I’m looking at it, and I just want to make the most of it.”
At the end of this 82 game season, we almost certainly won’t be discussing the win at home over Orlando on November 23rd. To people like us, folks on the outside, games like this don’t carry much weight. But Welsh’s shot served as a nice reminder of what’s so easy to forget about our favorite teams: real human beings comprise these rosters—so few of them stars, all of them living out a lifelong dream.
We will probably forget this night. But Tom Welsh never will.