DENVER (AP) — Even short-handed, the Denver Nuggets finished their first back-to-back-to-back set of the lockout-compressed season on a high note.
Danilo Gallinari scored a season-high 21 points, including a pair of free throws in the final seconds, and the Nuggets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 91-86 on Monday night to go 2-1 over the last three nights.
“The Bucks having two days off and us playing three in a row, we knew they had a little bit of an advantage, and they like to run like us,” said Al Harrington, who had 17 points for the Nuggets. “But we always feel playing in Denver with the altitude, if we keep running in the fourth quarter we’ll be in a good position. At the end of the day they got tired.”
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Ty Lawson chipped in with 16 points for the Nuggets, who were without Nene because of a bruised left heel. The Brazilian big man’s status is day-to-day.
Stephen Jackson had 17 points and Carlos Delfino added 14 for the Bucks, who were denied in a bid for a third consecutive win — which would have matched their best streak from last season.
The Bucks also were without Mike Dunleavy, who did not make the trip because of an undisclosed illness.
“When you play three games in three nights, the third one is very tough, especially when you play back-to-back (to start the set) with the Lakers,” Gallinari said.
Gallinari said when the going got tough, the Nuggets fed off the crowd.
“In the fourth quarter it’s very easy to find extra energy,” he said. “You have a tight game, you want to win, especially at home.”
Jackson said the Nuggets didn’t appear fazed by the string of games.
“They didn’t look like they had three games in three nights,” Jackson said. “That says a lot about how good of shape they’re in, and they didn’t have Nene, so you’ve got to credit them for that.”
Delfino’s 3-pointer gave the Bucks a 74-68 lead heading into the fourth quarter and Andrew Bogut’s 10-foot hook shot put Milwaukee in front 81-76 with 8:31 left to play.
Gallinari, who also had 10 rebounds, then got the Nuggets going. He drove in for a layup and tipped in a shot as part of a 10-0 run that Harrington finished with successive dunks as Denver went in front 86-81 with 4:01 remaining.
Jackson made a 20-foot jumper to pull Milwaukee to 87-86 with 1:55 remaining. Both sides missed jump shots before Lawson shook loose on a fast break and put in a layup with 10.9 seconds left for a three-point Nuggets’ lead.
Brandon Jennings, who had 12 points, missed a 3-point attempt from the top of the key with about 7 seconds to go. The rebound went to Gallinari, who was immediately fouled. He made both free throws with 5.3 seconds remaining to secure the win.
“We didn’t play very well. We kind of threw the ball all over the place,” said Bucks coach Scott Skiles. We gave ourselves a chance but we missed layups and we missed open shots.”
Milwaukee took a 44-37 lead after a basket by Luc Mbah a Moute. Denver came back to score 11 of the next 15 points, including tip-in by Gallinari as time expired to even the score at 48-all at halftime.
NOTES: The Bucks failed to score at least 50 points in the first half for the first time in four games this season. … The Nuggets second back-to-back-to-back set is in the first week of February. … Gallinari’s previous season high was 20 points, scored the night before in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers. … Jennings scored 20 or more points in each of his first three games before ending the streak with his 12-point outing against the Nuggets. … Denver has won eight of its last 10 meetings with the Bucks at the Pepsi Center.