SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Arron Afflalo hit a big shot in the final minute for the surprisingly surging Denver Nuggets and playfully stuck out his tongue.
He was smiling after the game, too, knowing the Nuggets nearly let a victory slip from their grasp.
Afflalo shook off a sore ankle to score 19 points, including a 3-pointer with 11.4 seconds to play, and the Denver Nuggets held off the Utah Jazz 103-101 Thursday night.
The Jazz had a chance to send the game into overtime, but Andrei Kirilenko fumbled the ball away under the basket as the buzzer sounded, never even getting off the potential game-tying layup.
“We were fortunate, there’s no doubt about it. We almost let it get away,” Afflalo said.
Ty Lawson scored 22 points, and Nene and Chris Andersen each added 13 to give the Nuggets their fifth win in six games since the deal that sent Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to New York.
Devin Harris, who had 21 points and nine assists, hit a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds to play. Kirilenko stole the inbound pass under the basket but lost control as he went up for a shot.
“My brain stopped working,” Kenyon Martin admitted after the game. Replays showed Martin, who was still out of bounds, touched the ball after Kirilenko stole it from him, but the referees didn’t review it.
“We were just so happy to run off this court with a win, because we haven’t been able to do that here very often over the years,” Lawson said.
While the Nuggets have thrived since trading their All-Star, the Jazz have sunk since dealing theirs.
The Jazz have lost four of five since they traded star point guard Deron Williams to New Jersey. Utah dropped two games behind Memphis for the eighth and final slot in the Western Conference.
Utah has also lost seven straight at home — the team’s worst home skid since 1982 — and is 1-6 under new coach Ty Corbin.
Against the most foul-prone team in the league, the Nuggets repeatedly took the ball to the basket down the stretch. Denver made 15 of 25 free throws in the fourth quarter alone. The Jazz attempted 12 free throws the entire game.
“We were attacking on screen-and-rolls the whole fourth quarter,” Lawson said. “They were in the bonus early so I was determined to get it to the basket and get to the line, because free throws are the easiest way to score.”
The Nuggets are the top-scoring team in the league at 107.5 points per game and have not dropped off offensively since the trade. But the new-look Nuggets have also clamped down on the defensive end.
Though the Jazz shot 52 percent, the Nuggets guarded best when the game was on the line.
“On defense, we got the stops when we needed to. That was the key,” Afflalo said.
After Harris made a 3-pointer for Utah’s last lead at 96-94, the Nuggets forced three straight turnovers.
“Big win, exactly what we needed,” Denver coach George Karl said.
The Jazz led 90-85 on Al Jefferson’s spinning layup, but the Nuggets scored nine straight points to make 94-90 with 3:45 remaining in the game.
“We got up five points and then we got away from what we were doing, took a couple bad shots and turned the ball over,” Corbin said.
Martin hit back-to-jumpers to put Denver up 74-66 with 3:09 left in the third quarter. But the Jazz, sparked by the fast-breaking Harris, scored 10 straight points and took the first lead of the game, 76-74, heading into the final period.
The crowd gave the Jazz an extended standing ovation at many points in the fourth quarter but stood in disbelief and collectively groaned as Kirilenko’s final shot went awry.
“(Martin’s) hand was on the ball. It wasn’t a foul but I didn’t really get the ball and I tried to finish without it,” Kirilenko said.
Hitting seven of their first eight shots, the Nuggets burst out to an early advantage and did not relinquish the lead until late in the third quarter.
NOTES: Newly acquired Derrick Favors (cold) and reserve guard Ronnie Price (sprained toe) did not dress for Utah. Corbin, who assumed head coach duties without a contract since Feb. 10 when Jerry Sloan abruptly resigned, finally signed a multiyear deal with Jazz on Tuesday. … Jazz G Earl Watson had to leave the game with 6:30 remaining to close a cut to his face. … Neither team led by more than nine points.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)