NEW ORLEANS – The shorthanded Denver Nuggets already had done the improbable, forcing one overtime and then a second overtime against the New Orleans Pelicans, a team focused on a bitter playoff race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
And then in the second extra period, Nuggets finished the comeback, outscoring the Pelicans 9-2 behind forward Danilo Gallinari’s five points to defeat the Pelicans 118-111 Sunday night at the Smoothie King Center.
“Grit,” said Nuggets interim coach Melvin Hunt, reflecting on his team’s fourth consecutive victory and his sixth win in eight games since taking over for the fired Brian Shaw. “I’ m not talking about the grits you get down South, down here. I’m talking about inner grit. The last overtime, we gave up two points. That’s digging in.”
The game was tied 109-109 at the end of the first overtime, but the Nuggets forced the Pelicans into five straight scoreless possessions at the start of the second overtime. Center Kenneth Faried, who scored 20 points, gave the Nuggets the lead for good on a rebound follow, and Gallinari, who finished with 17 points, nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:29 left to put Denver safely ahead, 114-109.
“Coach called a play for me to do the pick and roll with the point guard to make them switch,” Gallinari said. “They didn’t switch high, so I was able to have the space to shoot from the 3.”
The Nuggets (26-41) placed five players in double figures, led by guard Will Barton, who scored a career-high 25 points off the bench.
The loss for the Pelicans (36-30) placed them a game behind Oklahoma City for the final playoff spot in the West and wasted a monster game by forward Anthony Davis, who had a game-high 36 points, 14 rebounds, nine blocks and a career-high seven assists. It was the first time in the last 30 seasons that any NBA player had that stat line.
Davis had six of the Pelicans’ eight points in the first overtime period, all on mid-range jumpers.
But Davis’ last basket came with 2:18 left in the first overtime, and he failed to score in the final 7:18 of overtime. Despite coming off four days of rest, the Pelicans looked leg-weary in the final overtime period. Four of their five shots were long jumpers, which came up short. They missed 7 of 8 shots.
“We won’t go 6 for 22 from 3,” said New Orleans coach Monty Williams. “A lot of shots were front rim. As the game wore on, we stopped taking it to the basket.”
Davis did not think the Pelicans got tired, but he thought they did get sloppy with the ball (19 turnovers), which allowed Denver to get its running game going.
“They hit some tough shots in regulation and at the end of that first overtime, and in the second overtime shots weren’t falling (for us),” Davis said. “A lot of shots went in and out, shots that we normally make didn’t go in. It’s tough when you play that hard and that well and come up short. I wasn’t tired. I don’t buy into being tired. I train myself for them situations. We had good looks. We just didn’t connect.”
Leading 107-106 with 38.4 seconds left in the first overtime, the Pelicans tried to get the ball to the red-hot Davis, but guard Eric Gordon wound up with the ball as the shot clock was winding down. Gordon dribbled past guard Jameer Nelson on the left side of the lane and lofted a left-handed floater that found the basket, giving the Pelicans a 109-106 lead with 14.2 seconds left.
The Pelicans had a foul to give, but Barton canned a 3-pointer on a switch with 8.6 seconds left, making it 109-109. Evans then missed a driving layup, sending the game into a second overtime.
The game had ended 101-101 in regulation when Davis missed a straight-away 20-footer that went in and out.
Even though the Pelicans fell one game behind Oklahoma City (37-29), Williams said he was trying to keep it in perspective.
“You lose one game and it’s not like it’s a death sentence,” he said. “We got practice tomorrow. We’ve put ourselves in a good position. We all feel bad about it, but it can’t be tragic.”
NOTES: Pelicans G Tyreke Evans played his first game since spraining his left ankle on March 9. “He battles through a lot of stuff,” said New Orleans coach Monty Williams. “He’s one of the tougher guys I’ve been around when it comes to playing with pain. There were games when we thought he was going to sit out and he goes out there and has a big night.” … The Pelicans worked on their offensive sets during a rare four-day March break. … Playing the first of back-to-back games, Nuggets coach Melvin Hunt decided to rest two starters, G Randy Foye and F Wilson Chandler, as well as F Darrell Arthur, who is nursing a sore calf. “We’re going to figure out ways to get guys in a comfortable position, and if that’s resting a guy, we’ll rest him,” Hunt said. “We’ve got to have good long-term vision as well as short-term vision.”
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