6:00 PM ET, December 31, 2004
Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
DENVER (AP) -- Michael Cooper spent most of his first game as an NBA coach sitting on the bench, hoping the nervousness he felt inside wouldn't filter out onto the floor.
Apparently, Cooper learned a little about acting in all those years in Los Angeles.
Carmelo Anthony had 24 points in his first game in two weeks and the Denver Nuggets made Cooper a winner in his NBA coaching debut, ending a six-game losing streak with a 97-92 victory over Philadelphia on Friday night.
Cooper became the interim coach Tuesday after the losing streak and a 13-15 start cost Jeff Bzdelik his job. The Nuggets didn't look a whole lot different under Cooper -- good stretches followed by horrible ones -- but certainly had plenty of energy.
Playing most of the game without three starters, Denver scrambled and played just well enough on defense to win for only the second time in 10 games. The Nuggets also stayed poised down the stretch -- exactly what Cooper had hoped for with his sitdown style.
"I was excited, but I tried not to show the team that I was excited," said Cooper, who played and coached in LA for parts of three decades. "As a player, I looked to the bench and if Pat Riley was looking a little nervous it affected me on the floor. So I tried to keep my composure so the players don't see me losing my composure."
Cooper pledged to make Denver better by focusing on defense -- his specialty in 12 seasons as a player. That philosophy was put to the test right away against Philadelphia, which had scored 100 points in eight straight games, and Allen Iverson, who averaged 41 points in his past five.
It certainly didn't help that the Nuggets were without Kenyon Martin (back) and Greg Buckner (groin), then lost center Marcus Camby, the league's fourth-leading shot blocker, to a strained back late in the first quarter.
Denver did its best without its three best defensive players, scrapping to get out to Philadelphia's shooters and collapsing in the lane. The Nuggets were at their best in the fourth quarter, holding Iverson to four points and the 76ers to 5-of-14 shooting.
"Toward the end we clogged up the middle, we got out to the shooters, we altered shots," Anthony said.
Philadelphia withstood Denver's early adrenaline rush and seemed to be in control for most of the final three quarters before making some key mistakes down the stretch.
The 76ers had 10 of their 23 turnovers in the fourth quarter and Iverson had a rare off night with the game on the line, going 1-for-6 in the final quarter to finish 11-of-28. Marc Jackson added 15 points and Kyle Korver had 13 points and 10 rebounds, but it wasn't enough to prevent the 76ers' five-game road winning streak from ending.
"We had been doing a pretty good job of taking care of the ball lately, but I don't think our decision making was very good tonight," Korver said. "For whatever reason, we were playing like we were tired."
Anthony certainly didn't seem tired after missing five games with a sprained ankle. He was just 9-of-25 from the floor, but hit key shots in the fourth quarter and added eight rebounds and four assists.
He got some help, too. Nene had 16 points and 12 rebounds in place of Martin, and DerMarr Johnson added 18 points and five assists, hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to keep Denver close.
It still almost wasn't enough.
Denver took a 93-91 lead with 33 seconds left after Bryon Russell charged in for an offensive rebound and hit two free throws, then Iverson hit one of two free throws with 22 seconds left. Johnson had a chance to put the Nuggets up three after being fouled, but hit just one of two free throws.
Iverson then missed a scoop down the lane, and Denver's Andre Miller went 1-of-2 with 8.1 seconds left to give the 76ers one final chance. Korver's turnaround 3-pointer from straightaway was online, but caromed off the back of the rim.
"We got the shots we wanted and the foul he (Iverson) wanted," 76ers coach Jim O'Brien said. "At the end, Kyle got not a great look but an adequate one, so we executed fairly well down the stretch. It just didn't fall our way."
The coaching change certainly seemed to provide a spark in the early going for the Nuggets. Swarming on defense and spreading it around on the other end, Denver made nine of its first 10 shots and held the 76ers to one field goal in the first 4½ minutes to open with a 16-2 run.
The Nuggets just couldn't keep it going.
Denver had a hard time stopping Iverson, who scored 14 of Philadelphia's first 16 points after missing his first three shots, or anyone else after that. The 76ers closed the quarter with a 15-0 run, turning a 14-point deficit into a 28-25 lead.
Denver had just as much trouble offensively, missing its final six shots and going 6:50 without a field goal until Anthony scored on a hard drive at 10:15 of the second quarter.
Thankfully for Cooper, the Nuggets pulled it together at the end.
"My stomach was turning," Cooper said. "I wasn't too concerned if we had lost the game. I just wanted to play well. And if you do that, then you've got something to build on."
A moment of silence was observed before the game to honor victims of the tsunami in South Asia. ... Miller was called for a technical foul early in the second quarter for arguing an offensive foul call. ... Iverson has at least one steal in his last 47 games, dating to last season.
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||35-79 (.443)||38-92 (.413)|
|3PM-3PA||5-17 (.294)||5-17 (.294)|
|FTM-FTA||17-23 (.739)||16-23 (.696)|
|Fast Break Points||21||23|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||23 (2/0)||21 (1/0)|