"They were hit by it," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "We're
all human beings. Just because we play in the NBA or coach in the
NBA, we're still a human being. We're not super men."
The Nuggets moved closer to their first division title in 18
years, holding off the Golden State Warriors 95-92 Saturday night.
They lost focus, they were sluggish, they let an undermanned team
with no chance of reaching the playoffs come back from a 16-point
But they won.
Considering what they had been through in less than 24 hours, it
was a remarkable accomplishment.
"It was an ugly win, but we will take it," said Denver's Ruben
Patterson, who had 12 points. "I think guys had a lot in their
heads today with what happened to Julius last night. I know I did.
We were all devastated and hurt. But it could have been worse. He
could not be here today."
Hodge, Denver's first-round draft choice last year, was shot
while driving on a north Denver highway around 2 a.m. after
visiting a friend at a nightclub. Though he was listed in fair
condition and is expected to recover within a few weeks, the
incident left the Nuggets clearly shaken.
Denver got off to a slow start, went on an 11-2 run to go up 12
at the half, then let Golden State back in it. The lack of focus
was particularly evident at the free throw line, where the Nuggets
were just 21-of-40, including 7-for-16 in the final quarter.
If not for Carmelo Anthony's 28 points and Marcus Camby's play
inside (17 rebounds and eight blocked shots), Denver wouldn't have
much of a chance, even against a team without its top two scorers.
But by pulling it out, the Nuggets can win their first division
title since 1988 with another win or a loss by Utah.
"No one thought when you wake up and hear that type of news
that you have to go through stuff like that," said Camby, who had
at least 15 rebounds for the 15th time this season.
Golden State played without guard Baron Davis for the 13th
straight game because of a sprained ankle and had to do without
Jason Richardson, who's been bothered by sore knees. Those two
combine for 41.4 points per game, so that wasn't exactly what a
team that had lost seven straight games needed.
It showed in the first half.
With Mike Dunleavy and Derek Fisher as their only true scoring
threats, the Warriors couldn't muster much offense early, hitting
only eight of 26 shots in the first quarter and shooting 34 percent
in the first half. It didn't help that Dunleavy and Fisher went a
combined 3-for-15 in the half and Camby was all over the place on
defense, swatting four shots in the first quarter.
But after their first-half struggles, Dunleavy and Fisher fought
their way back, helping the Warriors cut Denver's lead to 71-68 by
the end of the third quarter. And they kept it up in the fourth,
giving Golden State a chance in a game they probably should have
had no chance of winning, especially after playing the night before
and not getting into Denver until 4 a.m.
"People picked up the slack and put us in position to win,"
said Dunleavy, who had 14 of his 18 points in the second half. "We
just didn't have enough to win it."
It sure was close, though.
The Warriors went up 87-84 with just over 4 minutes left on
Monta Ellis' 3-pointer before Denver rallied to take a three-point
lead on a pair of free throws by Anthony. Camby made it 94-90 by
hitting 1-of-2 free throws, then Fisher cut the lead in half with a
pair at the other end with 7.4 seconds left.
Andre Miller could have sealed it for Denver after being fouled
a second later, but he managed to make just one, giving Golden
State one last shot. The Warriors never got it off, though. Ellis'
off-balance 3-pointer came nowhere near the basket and after the
Fisher and Ike Diogu led the Warriors with 19 points apiece.
"There was a recipe for disaster not having Jason Richardson
out, getting in at 4 a.m. and playing a back-to-back," Warriors
coach Mike Montgomery said. "But the guys hung in there and gave
us a chance. We battled hard."