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DENVER — The Nuggets came away with perhaps their most thrilling victory of the year Wednesday night, a 105-103 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. While the whole game was entertaining, it was the last 35 seconds that stand out.
The insanity started with a little luck from the basketball gods. Danilo Gallinari‘s game-winning fadeaway jump shot over Andrew Wiggins banked off of the glass and moved the Nuggets to 14-18 on the season.
“That was obviously Gallo’s shot,” Michael Malone said after the win.”I asked if he called bank; he didn’t. No surprise there.”
Gallinari caught the ball on the wing and there was no doubt he was going to be taking the last shot. He shot fakes to get Wiggins off balance and then drives right into him. Wiggins does a good job of moving his feet and staying in front of Gallinari, who then decides to do a full spin and attempt a fadeaway jumper from just inside the free-throw line that miraculously banks in off of the glass.
That’s when things get interesting.
The following defensive possession was an absolute sight to behold. In the final 27 seconds, the Nuggets executed a perfect defensive stand to hold onto victory while the game was slowly slipping out of their hands.
There’s a lot going on here so let’s break it down piece by piece.
First and foremost there is Wilson Chandler skying for the chase-down block on Wiggins. Gallinari starts out checking Wiggins on the perimeter but a Karl-Anthony Towns screen forced Chandler to switch on Wiggins. Wiggins then slashes to the hoop with more momentum and a full step on Chandler. Somehow, Chandler is able to time the block and catch up to Wiggins and meets his shot attempt at the rim.
“I think I got lucky. I think he should have just dunked it but I am glad he didn’t though,” Chandler said postgame. “He turned the corner and got a little edge on me and I just jumped up. I thought he was going to dunk it but I was just going for the block regardless.”
“Wilson Chandler made an unbelievable play at the rim to block Wiggins who appears to have an easy layup or a dunk,” Malone said of Chandler’s defensive effort on the final possession.
Secondly, Gary Harris makes one of the smartest basketball plays of the year for the Nuggets.
After Chandler blocked the life out of Wiggins, the ball began bouncing towards the corner and out of bounds. Instead of letting the ball go out of play and allowing the Timberwolves a chance to tie or win with 9.4 seconds remaining, Harris elects to fly after the ball and proceeds to throw it is as far to the opposite corner of the court as possible. This shaves an additional 3.4 seconds off of the clock and forces Zach LaVine to have to recover from the opposite three-point line.
“First, I wanted to get to the ball. I didn’t want them to get an offensive rebound,” Harris said of the final ten seconds. “My momentum was taking me out of bounds so I just launched it. Make them go down there and make a play.”
Look how far Harris forced LaVine to recover the ball from the second Harris touched the ball to when LaVine first made contact.
“Gary Harris has the presence of mind to throw the ball down the court,” Malone said of the final sequence. “Throwing that ball all the way down the court takes up valuable time and obviously we were lucky enough for Zach LaVine miss that shot at the end.”
Nikola Jokic also put together an impeccable defensive possession on LaVine, guarding him full-court from the opposite three-point line all the way to the top of the key.
Jokic managed to stick close to LaVine and contest the shot as perfectly as possible without fouling. For Jokic, who is known to struggle defending guards on the perimeter, to cover LaVine for that kind of distance and contest the shot that perfectly is just insane.
The Nuggets needed a perfect defensive sequence and some luck to win but were able to come out with the victory. Denver has struggled to win close games to start the year and they seem to be turning a corner in that regard. They now have two consecutive wins, (Wednesday over Minnesota and Monday in Los Angeles), where they had to hold onto a lead and fight to the last whistle, and they have done exactly that.
This win put Denver at 14-18 which ties them with the Sacramento Kings for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. This was also the Nuggets’ fifth win in their last seven games.
Things seem to be trending upwards for the Denver. They face the Philadelphia 76ers Friday before going into one of the tougher four-game stretches of the season. From January 2 through 7, the Nuggets face the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings back-to-back, the San Antonio Spurs, and Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Now we have a chance to have two home games against Minnesota, a division rival, and then Philadelphia, both teams that we have already played one time,” Malone said before the Nuggets win over the Timberwolves. “Going into the new year 15-18, that is a hell of a lot better than 13-20.”