The Denver Nuggets lost three games at the Pepsi Center all of last season en route to 57 regular-season wins. Trailing by eight midway through the fourth quarter Thursday night against the Atlanta Hawks, the Nuggets were on the verge of matching that home loss total just a week into the year.
That's when Ty Lawson took the game into his own hands and helped make sure that didn't happen.
Lawson scored 10 points in the last five-plus minutes of the game, including a huge three with just under a minute left to give the Nuggets a five-point lead. The diminutive point guard did have some shaky moments after that, committing a turnover and missing a free throw, but the Nuggets still pulled out a 109-107 victory to notch their first victory of the season.
Lawson finished the night with 23 points, eight assists and seven rebounds while shooting 9-of-16 from the field and 3-of-5 from long range. After the game, Lawson admitted to Terry Frei of the Denver Post that the Nuggets' 0-3 was "weighing on everybody" and that it felt good to finally get the "monkey off our back."
Things certainly haven't gone smoothly at the outset for new coach Brian Shaw. He has come under some fire for his lineup decisions, especially after he decided to start Anthony Randolph and J.J Hickson together while bringing Kenneth Faried off the bench.
The first two games of the year were rather ugly, and after an ankle injury to Randolph, Shaw switched things up. Jordan Hamilton took Randolph's spot in the starting lineup at the 3, while Faried took Hickson's spot at the 4. Randolph was available to play Wednesday, but he didn't see the court.
What the Nuggets have to find next is their running game. They have a major home-court advantage playing in Denver's thin air, and over the past few years, they have worn teams out by constantly pushing the pace. Lawson was especially good at this, using his lightning-quick speed to get out and run.
But thus far, the Nuggets' offense has looked nothing like it has in years past. Even after putting up 109 points against Atlanta, Denver is scoring just 97.3 points per game after four contests. In terms of pace, the Nuggets are in the middle of the pack, despite Shaw wanting his team to run.
The personnel is different, with Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer gone, Danilo Gallinari still recovering from an ACL injury and Wilson Chandler on the mend as well. Still, with Lawson in place, it would behoove the Nuggets to get that fast-paced game going again. And according to the point guard, that time will come:
"I think it's the right mix. I think we're going to run more as the season goes along. We also have sets in the halfcourt that we can run and execute. We're going to get better as the season goes along."