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Nuggets clamp down in second half to rally past Cleveland

By Aaron J. Lopez, Nuggets.com

Posted Jan. 12 2013 00:35

The recipe for success doesn’t always have to feature the best ingredients.

Making no apologies for style and presentation, the Denver Nuggets just continue to serve up wins.

Playing a second consecutive home game against a sub-.500 team, the Nuggets overcame a sluggish start and 22 turnovers to rally for a 98-91 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Pepsi Center on Friday night.

Kosta Koufos scored a career-high 21 points, Kenneth Faried recorded his 17th double-double and Danilo Gallinari hit yet another clutch 3-pointer in the fourth quarter as Denver won its fourth straight game.

After watching his team escape against the Orlando Magic two nights earlier, Nuggets coach George Karl is becoming accustomed to close calls.

“I actually enjoy it more than most coaches do," he said. "I expect most games to be fourth-quarter games. I would expect my team to play with a little more intensity and determination early in games. They fight back and, defensively, we were very good in the second half.”

Trailing by 11 at halftime, the Nuggets (22-16), held the Cavaliers to 35 points in the second half and outscored Cleveland 18-6 over the final 7 minutes, 28 seconds. The Cavs were 2-for-11 from the field during that stretch.

“We knew the fourth quarter was key for us to step up a little bit and be more aggressive in our defense,” Gallinari said. “Our defense stepped up a notch. It was enough to be able to win this game.”

Spearheaded by point guard Kyrie Irving (28 points), the Cavaliers led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter before the Nuggets made a push. Denver closed to within four heading to the fourth, and Koufos made a baby hook with 5:04 to play to give the Nuggets their first lead since 14-13.

Denver still led by two with under a minute to play when Ty Lawson drew two defenders and kicked a pass back to Gallinari behind the 3-point line. Gallinari knocked down the shot to put the Nuggets up 94-89 with 34.9 seconds left.

It was the sixth time Gallinari has made a 3-pointer this season with less than 4 minutes left in a one-possession game.

“My teammates are doing an unbelievable job to find me in those situations,” he said. “They always find me at the right time. It’s about me being ready but my teammates are finding me every time.”

Koufos also was in the right place at the right time repeatedly Friday night.

With Lawson, Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller attacking the middle of the defense, Koufos consistently found the open space and converted inside. He scored 17 points in the second half and finished with a career-high 10 field goals.

‘When I penetrate, I draw his man,” Iguodala said. “He does a really good job of being at the right place at the right time. He’s making the game easier for me by being there, and I’m making the game easier for him by getting him easy baskets.”

Iguodala finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, while playing tough defense on Irving down the stretch. Because of Iguodala’s size and quickness, Karl is comfortable assigning him guard opposing point guards in late-game situations.

“Kyrie made a jump shot over Ty about midway through the fourth, and I just said, ‘No way, I’m not going to do this anymore,’ ” Karl said. “That one’s not going to beat me.”

The strategy paid off as Irving missed six of his final seven shots.

“He’s a tough player,” Lawson said. “In the second half, we kind of contained him a little bit and played a little better, made him take tougher shots.”

At the other end of the floor, Gallinari finished with a team-high 23 points as all five Denver starters scored in double-figures.

The Nuggets also handed out 24 assists to help offset their 22 turnovers. Inexplicably, Denver is 9-0 when committing at least 20 turnovers.

“Even though it’s an ugly win, winning ugly is usually the sign of a good basketball team,” Karl said. “It’s in the win column, and we get to keep fighting at home for a couple more games.”

Now 5-1 in January and 13-2 at home, the Nuggets face the Golden State Warriors at Pepsi Center on Sunday.

STAR OF THE GAME

Kosta Koufos

Points 21, 10-17 FG, 1-1 FT
Rebounds 6, 3 OFF 3 DEF
Assists 0
Steals 1
Blocks 1
GAME LEADERS
Points Kyrie Irving 28
Rebounds Kenneth Faried, Andre Iguodala 11
Assists Nelson, Ty Lawson 8
Steals Ty Lawson 8
Blocks Three players 3
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT

Danilo Gallinari on teammate Kosta Koufos, who scored a career-high 21 points against Cleveland

“He’s a very smart player. He knows how to paly basketball. He’s always at the right spot at the right time. He doesn't have to jump or do the crazy plays. I’m very happy for him."

KEY MOMENT

Gallinari hits another clutch 3 in the fourth quarter

Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari is making a habit of knocking down big shots in the fourth quarter. He did it again against Cleveland, hitting a 3-pointer to give Denver a five-point lead with 34.9 seconds left.

VIDEO RECAP

Postgame Quotes

Nuggets coach George Karl

On another fourth quarter victory:
“I actually enjoy it more than most coaches do. I expect most games to be fourth quarter games. I would expect my team to play with a little more intensity and determination. They fight back and defensively, we were very good in the second half. Between missed layups, missed free throws and turnovers, it was a struggle offensively. We scored enough easy baskets, we got some layups in the end. [Danilo] Gallinari makes the big three and I thought [Andre] Iguodala’s defense on [Kyrie] Irving was key to us winning. Once we put him on him – I don’t know how many Kyrie got – it seemed like we had more confidence and it wasn’t pretty; it was kind of ugly. It’s in the win column and we get to keep fighting at home for a couple more games.”

On Kosta Koufos:
“I think Kosta is doing a great job of finding easy baskets for us. Our guards have found him a lot even though tonight was the worst our guards have played from a standpoint of turnovers.”

On the lack of intensity in the first half:
“Young team. Sometimes too satisfied when you are on a winning streak and you get too into thinking we are better than we are. Cleveland is a team with good, young talent that is trying to improve themselves and trying to make a statement that they can win games. I think [Dion] Waiters and [Kyrie] Irving, [Tristan] Thompson and [Tyler] Zeller are all good young players.”

Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson

On the fourth quarter comeback:
“We were down the whole game but we fought hard in the fourth quarter and made the right plays in the last couple of minutes and got the win.”

On getting fouled attacking the rim:
“I have to say I am a three-point specialist. I am not going to the paint anymore. I had a mismatch when we set a pick-and-roll, they switched and I took advantage and got to the basket and finished.”

On Kyrie Irving:
“Yeah he is getting to the basket on pick-and-rolls and he is getting to the side making other plays better, he was making threes. He’s a tough player. In the second half, we kind of contained him a little bit and played a little better, made him take tougher shots.”

Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari

On the win:
“It was very important to get this win. The last few games, we didn’t play very well for all four quarters. I thought that at the end of the third quarter, beginning of the fourth quarter, we were able to step up and match their defense. We knew that our defense was the secret to win the game against them so we were able to get this win and it was very important for us because it’s a home win.”

On if he feels confident shooting the ball:
“I am always confident, always ready to take those shots and my teammates are finding me every time. Ty [Lawson] is doing an unbelievable job, Andre [Iguodala] is doing an unbelievable job finding me open. It’s always on me but it’s on them too.”

On Kosta Koufos:
“Kosta is a very smart player; he is always in the right place at the right time. He knows how to play basketball and he makes things easy for me and for us. When we drive the ball, we always find him at the right spot.”

Cavaliers coach Byron Scott

On Kosta Koufos:
“He just worked his way under the defense a few times, Tyler [Zeller] lost him and they are a very good interior passing basketball team. But that’s not what lost the game. We came out in the third quarter and the second half, we just didn’t come out ready to play. Period. We had a chance to win the basketball game; fatigue shouldn’t be a factor. We came out in our ‘cool mode’ and what happens in this league, being cool will get your ass kicked. Excuse my French, but that’s how we came out and that’s what we got.”

On Kyrie Irving’s 38 minutes being more than he expected:
“No not really. He probably ran out of gas. Maybe that last three or four minutes probably got to him.”

On their third quarter woes all season:
“I have no idea. Aside from the fact that we are just still young and dumb and don’t understand exactly what we have to do in the third quarter; because it happens over and over and over. I am tired of us giving games away. That’s what we did tonight. I don’t even know if we came out aggressive, because they had us on our heels the rest of the half, if we had matched their aggressiveness, the way they came out, then maybe it could have been a different story. Like I told them, this is game 38, some way it has to hit home that you can’t come out and play soft to start the third quarter when you played so well the first half. You have to come out and play that way again. Somehow, from a psychological standpoint, maybe you have to trick yourself into thinking you are down 15-20 points; but when we are up 10 or 11 points, like we do over and over again, when we don’t come out ready to play.”

Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving

On what changed in the second half:
“Our energy, that’s it. We came out nonchalant in the third quarter, which was the difference. We talked about going into the third quarter that we need to come out aggressive on both ends of the floor, and we didn’t do that. There’s been a few games like this throughout the whole season where we’re in the game and we let it slip away, instead of putting our foot on the gas and dominating teams in the second half; it’s always that third quarter.”

On playing while sick:
“I feel like crap. It’s just something I’ve got to get through but it’s going to take a few days. I felt it throughout the whole game, but my adrenaline definitely took over. We were in the game and it started to get exciting in the second half.”

On moving past the loss:
“We know the things we need to do to get better on both ends of the floor. We’re going to rebound tomorrow with a good practice, and we play a good L.A. [Lakers] team on Sunday.”

On losing games in the fourth quarter:
“Our effort was great but it’s the little things that matter. We were up and we were doing all the things we needed to do in the first half. In the second half, we came out nonchalant and there is no explanation for that, we can’t make excuses for that.”

POSTGAME NOTES

INDIVIDUAL

• Kenneth Faried scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in tonight’s victory, notching his 29th career double-double (17th this season). The Nuggets improve to 17-1 at the Pepsi Center when Faried registers a double-double in his career. Additionally, it is the forward’s third double-double in four games.

• Andre Iguodala scored 13 points and recorded 11 rebounds (five offensive), his 72nd career double-double (fourth this season). In Iguodala’s last 20 double-doubles his teams are a combined 18-2 (Nuggets 4-0). The five offensive rebounds tie a career high for Iguodala (previously accomplished five times, most recently 3/6/11 vs. GSW).

• Danilo Gallinari led the team with 23 points and also recorded seven rebounds in the win. In the last four games, Gallinari is averaging 21.0 points and 6.5 rebounds (Nuggets 4-0).

• Kosta Koufos scored a career-high 21 points tonight. The Nuggets improve to 4-1 in Koufos’ career when he scores 15+ points at the Pepsi Center. The big man also set career highs in field goals made with 10 (previous – eight on 12/26/08 vs. DAL) and field goals attempted with 17 (previous – 11, three times).

• JaVale McGee blocked three shots in tonight’s game, marking the 12th time this season he has blocked three-or-more shots in a game. When McGee blocks three-or-more shots at the Pepsi Center in his career, the Nuggets are now 10-1.

• Kyrie Irving scored 28 points on 11-of-26 shooting, including five steals tonight. The 26 field goal attempts are a new career-high for Irving (previous – 25 FGA on 12/15/12 @ NYK). He also set a new career-high for steals with five (previous – four, accomplished three times). It’s the 14th time in his career that he has scored 28+ points in a game.

TEAM

• The Nuggets beat the Cavs 98-91 and have now won nine of their last 12 overall games against Cleveland (have won 10 of the last 13 vs. Cleveland at Pepsi Center).

• All five of Denver’s starters scored in double-figures tonight, just the second time this season all five have done so in the same game (2-0).

• The Nuggets are now 16-3 when holding their opponent under 100 points.

• Denver outrebounded Cleveland 56-to-35, moving to 17-7 (11-1 at home) when outrebounding their opponents. They are now 9-2 when grabbing 50+ rebounds.

• Additionally, it was the sixth time this year the Nuggets have had a +15-or-better advantage on the boards. It is the largest rebounding margin the Nuggets have posted this season and largest since 4/9/12 vs. GSW (+33).

• The Nuggets attempted 31 free throws in tonight’s victory. Denver is now 8-1 on the season when attempting 30+ free throws.

• Kenneth Faried (17 points, 11 rebounds) and Andre Iguodala (13 points, 11 rebounds) both registered double-doubles tonight, and Denver is now 7-1 on the year when two-or-more players accomplish this in the same game.

• The Nuggets overcame a 13-point deficit tonight, winning after trailing by double-digits for the second consecutive and sixth time overall this year.

• Denver’s bench combined for just 11 points, the Nuggets’ fewest bench points since they had 10 vs. LAC on 2/29/08 (W 110-104).