DENVER (AP) – Down five points with less than 10 seconds left, Corey Brewer figured this was the end of the Denver Nuggets’ longest streak since joining the NBA in 1976.
“To be honest, I didn’t think we had any chance of winning,” Brewer said after lifting Denver to a 101-100 win – its 14th straight overall – over the stunned Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night.
Brewer sank a 3-pointer with 9.2 seconds left, quickly fouled Evan Turner – a 75 percent free-throw shooter who missed both of his foul shots with 7.1 seconds remaining – and then sank three free throws with 2.1 seconds left after drawing the whistle on Damien Wilkins.
Fellow reserve Anthony Randolph, playing because Wilson Chandler was out with a dislocated left shoulder, blocked Wilkins’ desperation jumper at the buzzer to secure Denver’s 14th straight win overall and 16th straight at the Pepsi Center.
It’s not quite the 24-game run the Miami Heat are on, but it’s still plenty impressive.
With Ty Lawson also out, Andre Miller took over at the point and got winded pretty quickly. The Nuggets, overlooked in the great surge by the Heat, played their ugliest game of their streak, which started back on Feb. 23. They turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 20 times and didn’t find a rhythm until the very end as they narrowly avoided their first home loss since falling to Washington on Jan. 14.
“It wasn’t fun,” Nuggets coach George Karl said, “but it ended up being fun.”
At 31-3, the Nuggets surpassed Miami (30-3) for the best home record in the NBA, and this one was easily the most satisfying of them all.
After drawing the foul with 2.1 seconds left, Brewer took a deep breath and sank the first shot.
“I was just trying to be calm. I knew I needed to make two out of three and once I made the first one, a little pressure’s off,” said Brewer, who finished with a career-best 29 points.
He hit his second, then took a step back while JaVale McGee returned to the game. Once McGee was in place for a possible rebound, Brewer swished his third free throw.
“It’s tough. It’s just you, the basket and the crowd,” teammate Danilo Gallinari said.
After a timeout, Randolph blocked Wilkins, who finished with 24 points, and win No. 14 was theirs.
“There’s no one to point the finger at,” Turner said. “We played hard the whole game, whatever could go wrong did go wrong.”
Even though Miller scored a season-high 21 points, the Nuggets sorely missed Lawson (right heel) and Chandler, both of whom were hurt in Denver’s signature win at Oklahoma City Tuesday night.
Gallinari’s seventh turnover led to Wilkins’ jumper that made it 98-90 with two minutes remaining, and the crowd was standing in disbelief that this streak was really going to come to an end against the league’s lowest-scoring team, one which had won just six times on the road, tied for the fewest in the NBA.
Randolph’s slam dunk with made it 98-95, but Jrue Holiday, who had 15 assists to go with his 18 points, sank two free throws with 14 seconds remaining to give Philadelphia a seemingly safe five-point cushion.
Before the game, it was noted that Karl’s team has been flying under the radar because of the Heat’s streak that included a comeback Wednesday night from a 27-point deficit in Cleveland.
“That’s fine,” Karl said. “That’s fine with me. I just don’t want to get down 27 tonight. I don’t think we can shoot the 3 as well as Miami does and make the comeback.”
Turns out, the Nuggets needed a big comeback of their own.
“Yeah, you need one of these,” Brewer said. “You see the Heat win. They were down 27 last night and they win a crazy game. So, it’s fitting for us to win a game like this.”
It might have been the most satisfying of their 14 straight wins, too.
“It was a crazy win,” Gallinari said. “We didn’t play our best basketball. We know it. Everybody knows it. And to win in this way, even when you don’t play your best basketball is a very good sign.”
The Sixers wanted to hold their heads high – but they couldn’t quit shaking them in disbelief.
“Effort was there, energy was there, it was closing out the game,” Turner said. “That’s not what lost the game. Situations occurred. That’s some crazy stuff that just happened. The season’s been rough. That’s one you just shake your head. It seems like a fluke to me.”
Philadelphia coach Doug Collins was agitated at his team’s failure to close out a winnable game.
“We had a seven-point lead and the ball,” Collins lamented. “I can sit here and do my best TNT (sugar-coating) and the end result is we didn’t get it done.”
Even the Nuggets marveled at the improbability of their win.
“They played good basketball,” Miller said. “They forced us to turn the ball over, slowed us down a little bit. Both teams were just winded. The luck was just our way tonight.”
And Karl found a silver lining.
“I thought Philadelphia was more athletic than us most of the night,” Karl said. “We missed Wilson’s defense and alertness, missed Ty’s speed. When you take guys out, sometimes the puzzle doesn’t fit. Philadelphia, from the beginning, looked quicker and faster. I think we’re fortunate. We overcame a lazy, mental preparation of a game.
“To play as poorly as we did (and still win) is a good sign. It’s the sign of a good team. We have two of our main guys out and don’t play well and still figure out how to beat a team that has been playing well.”
NOTES: Chandler said his shoulder felt better Thursday, but added that he plans to sit out Denver’s next two games and hopes to return March 27 against San Antonio. … Lawson leads the Nuggets with a 16.9-point scoring average. Chandler is averaging 11.8 points and five rebounds.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Sports Writer
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