By Brett Martel, AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Denver Nuggets aren’t done yet, as coach Mike Malone was happy to point out following a victory that tested the limits of his club’s offense and required about 30 seconds of good defense.
Danilo Gallinari scored 28 points, Gary Harris added 23 points and a pivotal late steal, and the Nuggets pulled to a half-game out of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot with a 134-131 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.
“It’s funny. A lot of people keep counting us out,” said Malone, whose team has rebounded from a recent three-game skid with two straight victories to stay on the heels of eighth-place Portland. “People kind of give up hope. We haven’t. Everybody in that locker room is remaining positive, optimistic, and we’re going to play this out.”
Harris was the game’s most accurate shooter, hitting 10 of 12 shots, including both 3-pointers he attempted. But it was his instinctive athleticism on the defensive end that helped decide a game that came down the final seconds. With Denver leading by two, Harris stole Jrue Holiday’s pass intended for DeMarcus Cousins along the perimeter.
“I didn’t even see it. I just put my hands up and my hands hit the ball,” Harris said. “We found a way to get a stop. That’s what it comes down to. We’re fighting right now to stay in this playoff race, so I was just happy to see us get the stops when we needed it.”
Anthony Davis had 41 points and four blocks. Cousins capped a 30-point, 14-rebound performance with two late 3-pointers, the latter to tie it at 131 with 30.5 seconds left. Holiday had 18 points and 13 assists, but turned the ball over twice in the last 30 seconds and missed a 3-pointer as time expired.
“Obviously, (you) hate to make those types of decisions and mistakes in such tight quarters,” Holiday said. “But I have great teammates. They told me to keep my head up. Obviously, some of the best players have done it in similar situations and they told me that wasn’t the reason we lost.”
Davis said the Pelicans’ defense was to blame.
“We weren’t physical and into them,” Davis said. “They were shooting shots where we’re just standing right there, giving them a shot that you’re shooting in warm-ups.”
The Pelicans had a chance to set up a winning shot after Wilson Chandler missed one of two free throws with 18.2 seconds left, leaving Denver up by one. But Holiday mishandled an inbound pass for a back-court violation. Malone credited Harris’ pressure on Holiday for forcing that mistake as well.
New Orleans quickly fouled Emmanuel Mudiay, but he also missed a free throw. That left New Orleans 13.8 seconds to set up a tying or go-ahead shot, only to see that chance vanish with Harris’ late steal. Harris missed one free throw, giving New Orleans one last chance for a rushed, tying 3 that Holiday missed.
Chandler scored 18 for Denver, which shot 53.3 percent (53 of 99). Jamal Murray added 16 and Mudiay finished with 15.
Solomon Hill scored 15 and E’Twaun Moore 13 for the Pelicans, who shot 51 percent.
The teams combined for 27 3s, with New Orleans hitting 14.