The Nuggets came into Oklahoma City looking for an important victory to come closer to securing the sixth spot out west and avoid playing one of the top two teams in the conference.
Denver battled, fought and clawed their way to victory Wednesday night on the road, in one of the toughest places to play for opposing teams.
The Thunder are 26-7 on their home court, with two of the deadliest scorers in the game in Kevin Durant (32) and Russel Westbrook (30), yet the Nuggets pushed through all the adversity and handed Oklahoma City their 19th loss on the season.
Telling is not only that the Nuggs pulled off the win, but how they won the game.
Denver played its way; a total team effort, with seven players scoring in double digits and 21 assists on 40 made baskets.
Ty Lawson led the way with 25 and Arron Afflalo scored 15, but it was the play of Corey Brewer and Kenneth Faried that propelled the Nuggets to victory Wednesday night.
Faried started the game on fire, going to the rim and even knocking down rare mid-range jumpers.
Brewer was all over the court, haunting Oklahoma City's superstars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. In the first half, Brewer's energy, physicality and active hands forced Durant to turn the ball over three times, twice while driving to the hoop.
Those steals turned into fast-break opportunities and Brewer had three run-out dunks in the first half alone.
The rookie, Faried, and the bench player, Brewer, could have relented and decided they had played well enough for the game, pat themselves on the back and relax.
They did anything but that.
In fact, each of them turned their level of play up a notch in the second half.
In the fourth quarter, Brewer's big steal, reaching around Durant, turned into a fast-break bucket and put the Nuggs up 92-88 with seven minutes to go.
On the Nuggets' next possession, there was Faried, spinning his way under the rim and laying the ball in over Serge Ibaka, who had blocked every ball near the hoop to that point.
While they were dynamite on defense all game long, it was their offensive play during crunch time that was crucial.
With 1:40 on the clock, an errant Afflalo layup floated over the rim, with no chance of going in. Faried flew in and threw down a monstrous dunk to put the good guys up three, 102-99.
On the next possession, Brewer head-faked Fisher from behind the arc, stepped in and the bank was open late in OKC. His jumper from 17 put the men from the Mile High up five points with 55 seconds left, but he wasn't finished impacting the game.
Brewer plays to the last minute—he's a worker through and through, arguably his best characteristic—and he forced Durant to pass off to Fisher on the game-tying three, which missed, and Lawson's free throws sealed the deal for Denver.
Brewer ended the game with 10 points, two steals, he drew two charges and blocked a shot.
The Manimal went wild with his 12th double-double of the season—tied with Ricky Rubio for most by a rookie—scoring 13 and grabbing a game-high 10 boards.
Of course, he also ranks eighth in scoring (10.1), first in rebounding (7.6), third in blocks (1.05) and third in field goal percentage (58.5) among rookies and he'd be walking home with the Rookie of the Year trophy if it weren't for Kyrie Irving's incredible season in Cleveland.
As the season wraps up tomorrow against the T'Wolves, this win is important on three levels.
Firstly, it showcased how deep Denver is. If Brewer and Faried can regularly contribute, which they have when given the minutes by Karl, it bodes well for the Nuggets' chances in the playoffs.
Also, stealing this game on the road on Oklahoma City is a sure sign the Nuggs are ready for the arduous journey ahead of them. No matter who Denver plays—likely the Lakers—they will have to win on the road to move onto the second round for only the second time in Karl's tenure. In fact, this marked the third straight road win for the Nuggets, a streak that includes victories in Houston and Phoenix as they fought to try to make the postseason.
The best part of the win Wednesday was that the Nuggets showed grit, toughness and an unwillingness to back down from the Thunder when they got physical.
Denver's got to harness that mentality to win in the postseason and this game is a great reason to be optimistic if you're a Nuggets fan.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being your CSU Rams Examiner, Kurtzman is also the Denver Broncos Examiner and writes for Blake Street Bulletin, Stadium Journey, Bleacher Report, and Mile High Hoops.
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