Ryan Kelly watches Nate Robinson throw down. (Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)
It's been a rough few weeks for the Denver Nuggets, with eight straight losses dropping them below .500 and the ranks of playoff contention, and an on-the-bench incident that led to Andre Miller, one of the Nuggets' longest-tenured veteran voices, receiving a two-game suspension for "conduct detrimental to the team." (The suspension was later rescinded, and he'll return to Nuggets practice on Monday.) Denver's fortunes turned over the weekend, though, beginning with a hard-fought three-point win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday and continuing with a freewheeling blowout of the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday that saw the Nuggets take a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter, stretch that to 20 over the next four minutes, and spend the balance of the game having a little bit of fun.
In other words, it was Nate Robinson's time to shine.
With just under three minutes left and the Nuggets holding a 22-point lead, Lakers point guard Kendall Marshall — the former Phoenix Suns lottery pick turned D-League standout who's now starting for L.A. due to a the Lakers' rash of injuries at the point (and spoiling for a Twitter follow from another injured teammate) — drove into the teeth of the Denver defense and turned the ball over. That kickstarted a three-on-one Nuggets fast break, which Denver's Ty Lawson kindly finished by lofting a tasty lob for his fellow small-fry point man ... and which the ever-effervescent NateRob capped by hanging on the rim long enough to earn a technical foul:
If you thought getting T'd up for showing up the opposition with a long-lived rim-hang while holding a 24-point lead might chasten Nate a bit, well, then you must not have watched a whole lot of Nate's career. Mere moments later, Robinson took advantage of two lackadaisical L.A. box-outs — not particularly surprising for a Lakers team that ranks 29th among 30 NBA teams in defensive rebound rate — to add a couple of extra exclamation points to an already loud statement of victory:
The final put-back capped Robinson's scoring output on Sunday in memorable fashion. He finished with 21 points in just under 20 minutes of playing time off the bench, adding five rebounds and five assists to lead seven Nuggets in double figures as Brian Shaw's team cruised to a 137-115 blowout of the reeling Lakers that gave Denver its second straight win after eight consecutive losses and brought the Nuggets with one game of .500 at 16-17.
Nate's late-game exploits elicited some social media praise from a pair of his Pacific Northwest-raised NBA buddies:
Ha ha ha. Nate
— Jamal Crawford (@JCrossover) January 6, 2014
Haha @nate_robinson with 3 dunks in like 3min... That man is not human
— Isaiah Thomas (@Isaiah_Thomas2) January 6, 2014
He might not be human, but he is, without a doubt, the sort of spark plug whose contributions can help a team go from sputtering to running on all cylinders in short order.
"We just found our niche and found our energy," Robinson said after the game, according to Greg Beacham of The Associated Press. "We had a tough month, you could say. It's just that time to turn a new leaf, and just continue to play like we did tonight, and hopefully we can have a snowball effect and we can go streaking again."
Robinson — and his former head coach — offered a few thoughts on the veteran reserve's own "niche" and "energy" after his 12-point fourth quarter, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles:
"I was just being aggressive tonight and taking advantage of opportunities," Robinson said. "I like to entertain the other team’s crowd."
[Mike] D’Antoni, who coached Robinson in New York with the New York Knicks, was not pleased with the display, but also not surprised.
"I coached Nate. That’s Nate," D’Antoni said. "You just shrug your shoulders. Now, if I’m a player, I would’ve had some thoughts, but since I’m sitting over there, it’s hard to do anything. That’s him."
Indisputably, irrepressibly him ... which is a lot more fun to watch when you're not on the business end of those alley-oops and put-backs.
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