DENVER (AP) – Thanks to Corey Brewer, the Denver Nuggets’ long home winning streak is intact. Their dreams of a deep playoff run, however, took a hit when Danilo Gallinari blew out his left knee.
“There’s a sadness to the win,” Denver coach George Karl said after the Nuggets beat the Dallas Mavericks 95-94 on Thursday night.
Their 19th straight win at home was a bittersweet one amid fears that Gallinari tore his ACL.
Brewer replaced Gallinari in the lineup late in the first half and scored a game-high 23 points. He added three big plays in the final 19 seconds that helped Denver improve to 34-3 at home.
First, Brewer stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki with Denver trailing 94-93. Then, he grabbed the offensive rebound when Kenneth Faried missed his second straight free throw with 9 seconds left.
After Andre Iguodala sliced to the basket for a nifty left-handed layup with 2.8 seconds on the clock to put Denver ahead in a game that Dallas dominated, Brewer deflected Anthony Morrow’s potential game-winner at the buzzer.
“Whatever it takes to win,” Brewer said. “Make a play, get a steal or get a rebound.”
Gallinari is scheduled for an MRI on Friday, but if his screams of pain, anguished face and the blank looks of his teammates after he went down with 4:27 left in the first half are any indication, the Nuggets will head into the playoffs without him.
“You never want to see anybody go down but especially a guy like Gallo that’s so important to us,” Brewer said. “So, it’s tough. But we have to fight through it. It’s going to be tough on us, but we’ve got to just keep playing hard.”
Gallinari, who had nine points before getting hurt, is the Nuggets’ second-leading scorer at 16.3 points per game. Their top scorer, Ty Lawson (16.7) is out indefinitely with a tear in his bruised right heel.
Gallinari’s left knee buckled inward as he drove past Dirk Nowitzki and Darren Collison to the basket for a layup. He gave up the ball, grabbed his knee and hopped out of bounds, where he sat down, screaming in pain as Collison scored at the other end for Dallas.
Gallinari was helped off the court by reserves Timofey Mozgov and Quincy Miller. After a few halting steps, he was seated in a wheelchair and whisked away.
That the Nuggets were able to pull off the win without their two best players was testament to their depth and versatility. They hadn’t won a game while shooting this poorly – 39 percent – since 2008.
“Winning (while) playing poorly against a good team is usually a good sign,” Karl said. “So, it’s a win. It doesn’t feel as exuberant as if Gallo wouldn’t have gotten hurt, but I’m proud of the guys staying with it. We’ve just go to figure things out and don’t feel sorry for ourselves, just hang in there and continue to figure out how our team fits.
“We’re versatile, we’re deep. And I told all the guys at the end of the bench that you never know when the opportunity’s going to come and I think now there will probably be some opportunities for some guys at the end of the bench.”
The Nuggets, who haven’t lost at home since Jan. 18 against Washington, entered the game third in the Western Conference in their quest for homecourt advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs, a task that will be a whole lot harder without Gallinari.
The Mavericks are in a tight race with the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot, and they nearly came away with a signature win at the Pepsi Center.
“We gave it away,” Shawn Marion lamented. “We had our chances to win this game and close it out.”
Dallas was without big man Elton Brand because of a sore right calf that’s been bothering him for a week. Coach Rick Carlisle said Brand’s injury flared up in the team’s loss to Indiana on March 28 and affected his play in subsequent games against the Bulls and Lakers, “so we’re going to sit him and try to get him right.”
The 13th-year pro is averaging 7.4 points and 6.1 rebounds, and his presence in the paint might have made a difference for Dallas on this night.
The game was tied at 47 at halftime, but the Nuggets clearly had Gallinari on their minds after the break, falling behind 77-70 heading into the fourth quarter before they began chipping away.
Eventually, Iguodala’s 3-pointer tied it at 86, but Andre Miller, who scored a season-high 22 points, botched an alley-oop pass to Iguodala for the go-ahead bucket and Chris Kaman scored at the other end for Dallas, which was led by Brandan Wright’s 16 points.
Denver wouldn’t take the lead until Iguodala drove the paint from the right side and scored a left-handed layup with 2.8 seconds left following Brewer’s big offensive board.
“We were right there, one rebound away,” Carlisle said. “When Faried missed the second free throw we needed to come up with that. It didn’t happen for us. The rebounding again was a big factor. We’ve got to be able to come up with a rebound.”
Carlisle didn’t want to talk about Gallinari but said, “Brewer played great. He hit timely shots all night and he had a lot to do with getting (O.J.) Mayo out of the game (with 1:48 left) because he kept drawing fouls. He had a great game for them.”
After a timeout, Dallas had one more chance to pull this one out – and so did Brewer.
Sure enough, he sideswiped Morrow’s 23-footer, getting just enough of the ball for it to fall short of the rim.
“I just knew he was going hard right,” Brewer said. “I knew he had to shoot it. There was only 2.8 seconds left and I knew I could block it.”
These are the types of things the Nuggets will hang onto as they forge ahead without Gallinari.
“We’ve got some gutsy guys that have a competitive spirit that’s pretty first-class,” Karl said.
NOTES: Denver is one win shy of matching its franchise record 20-game home winning streak, set in 1984-85. … This marked the Mavericks’ only visit to Denver this season. The teams play again in Dallas next week.
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