They might not have been the final points of the game, but they were the last that mattered. There was no more fitting person to score them.
When Corey Brewer, who spent the first three and a half seasons of his career in Minnesota, stepped to the free throw line with 16 seconds remaining in Denver's 103-101 overtime win over the Timberwolves, it was a one-possession game. The Nuggets led, 97-95, but with two flicks of Brewer's wrist, the game was out of reach or at least it should have been.
Brewer's points pushed the game to one of swats and shoves, the Timberwolves fouling the Nuggets in a last, desperate attempt to push their record above .500. It was one of those games where a team must hope for the impossible, and somehow, the Timberwolves got it, in the form of a last-second steal by Martell Webster.
But what was more unexpected than Webster's steal was what he did with the ball. Down by three, 102-99, Webster did the unthinkable: he went for the easy dunk, dashing any hopes of a game-tying 3.
It was one of those moments where you blink to make sure it really happened. With one glance at the scoreboard, Webster realized his mistake. Ricky Rubio shook his head slowly, accepting that finally the game was over.
It was the Timberwolves' first overtime game of the season, and it was marked with injuries and absences on both sides. When Timberwolves' coach Rick Adelman announced pregame that Darko Milicic was not with the team due to a stomach injury, it didn't seem like much; Milicic played just a tenth of a second on Sunday night. But when center Nikola Pekovic missed the entire second half after spraining his right ankle, the Timberwolves lacked a solid big man for the rest of the night.
The Nuggets lost Ty Lawson to a sprained left ankle, and Andre Miller was ejected after arguing a foul call in the third quarter. They've also been playing without Danilo Gallinari, whose left ankle is also sprained.
With Gallinari out, Brewer has gotten a chance to start his first five games of the season, and he's performed better this year for the Nuggets than he had since 2009-10, when he started every game for the Timberwolves and averaged 13 points. But even before Gallinari's injury, Brewer seemed to have found a contributing role on Denver's roster, something he hasn't had since his early years in Minnesota.
"I feel like I'm the guy, kind of like the energy guy on this team," Brewer said. "My normal role would be coming off the bench, to pick the guys up and bring the energy, do what I can do to help the team win. Do all the little things."
Brewer, who finished with 12 points on Monday, is averaging 9.3 points this year for the Nuggets, and in his six starts he's averaged 14.2. That's a far cry from last season's averages of 8.6 points in Minnesota and 5.3 after he was first traded to New York, then released and signed with Dallas. Brewer attributed his improved play this season to the work he put in over the summer during the lockout, when he thought he'd be returning to Dallas. But after a trade, he found himself in Denver, and he's happy with where he landed.
"I actually came into a good situation, having a chance to play here in Denver," Brewer said. "We got a lot of good guys here, a real good team, we just are trying to get healthy. But guys look for me, and maybe I'll have a good year."
He did admit that he misses Minnesota, the team that picked him as the seventh overall pick out of Florida in 2007. It was a bittersweet matchup, he said, and he added that he'd like to still be playing for the Timberwolves, who've impressed him with their season thus far.
"I think it's great," Brewer said of the Timberwolves' resurgence. "Minnesota, the fans deserve a good team, deserve to get some wins. Those guys are winning. They're playing hard. You can't ask for much more."
But on Monday night, Adelman expected more from his players. They played hard, he conceded and it's easy to forget that they managed to take a perennial playoff team to overtime after such a disappointing conclusion but they didn't make the shots they needed.
Adelman did say that he thought the team played better in the second half, despite the absence of Pekovic, who's become a scoring threat to rival Kevin Love on several occasions this season. That must be heartening for a team that's likely to be without its starting center until after the All-Star break.
In the end, both teams were forced to rely on their benches more than either coach would have liked. And where Minnesota's at times lacked an offensive punch Brad Miller, Anthony Tolliver and Derrick Williams combined for just seven points Denver's delivered. Al Harrington came off Denver's bench for 31 points, and rookie Kenneth Faried, who's played in just 13 games, got the start and managed to out-rebound Kevin Love, 14 to 13.
"We're a great team," Faried said. "Any player can come off the bench and play. As long as we stay focused and everybody be ready for when their name is called, we ain't got to worry about nothing."
Faried spoke with an air of confidence that's not often seen in rookies, and it was at least partially justified. His team kept its cool in the waning seconds of the game, but it was nothing more than a stroke of luck, a dunk that shouldn't have been, that sealed the Nuggets' win.
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