The Denver Nuggets improved to 2-0 in the Melvin Hunt era on Wednesday night, scoring a 100-85 road win over the Minnesota Timberwolves thanks in large part to a 34-16 second quarter and a balanced attack featuring nine players chipping in at least six points, led by an 18-point, 14-rebound outing from forward Kenneth Faried. That the Nuggets, dismal as they've been in a campaign that led to the firing of head coach Brian Shaw earlier this week, notched a victory over the West-worst Wolves isn't stunning in and of itself, but, given the circumstances, it sure seemed to catch recently returned pack leader Kevin Garnett by surprise.
While KG might not always deign to speak with the media, he tends not to pull punches when he decides to, and that was certainly the case in the Target Center locker rooms on Wednesday night:
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Q: Did you kind of expect Denver to come out with that life, that zip after the last two days?
Garnett: No, to be honest. they quit on Brian Shaw. I thought, you know, they'd quit again. A quitter is a quitter. That was my take on that. But if you've got any kind of self-pride about your future, then you want to anticipate someone playing hard. But no, I didn't really think about the Denver Nuggets or how they was going to come out tonight. I was more concerned about us, and us going forward, and being better.
Minnesota head coach Flip Saunders, however, did anticipate Denver's proverbial "dead cat bounce," according to Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
“We just didn’t play enough with a sense of urgency,” said Saunders, who guaranteed a better effort Saturday against Portland. “Any time you have a coaching change, they’re going to play with a great amount of energy. They drove the ball at us.”
After failing to put consistent efforts together to the bulk of the season and seeming content, even eager, to merely play out the string in this miserable lottery-bound campaign, the Nuggets have showed signs of life these last two games, totaling 32 fast-break points and 53 assists on 81 made baskets, seemingly seeking to get up and down and share the ball.
"It's fun playing like that," Hunt said after the game, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press. "I can't say that enough. Who wouldn't want to play that way? Sharing the basketball, teammate gets a basket, teammate gets a dunk. That's fun basketball."
And yet, it's tough not to see any fun the Nuggets are having as coming at the expense of the 48-year-old Shaw, who said in a Wednesday statement he was "very proud of the effort" that he and his staff put in during his tenure in Denver, which ended with a record of 56-85. And that's not sitting well with some well-respected NBA veterans.
Garnett joins a pair of Shaw's former players from his time as an assistant with the Indiana Pacers, power forward David West and swingman Paul George, in defending the longtime player and first-time head coach after his ouster in Colorado:
RT @ScottAgness: David West on Brian Shaw being fired: "That's bull****. No grownups on the roster. You can't win without grownups."
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) March 3, 2015
Don't understand how you can't play for B Shaw!
— Paul George (@Yg_Trece) March 4, 2015
Shaw might not have taken the right approach to his first head-coaching gig, looking to downshift a team built for the uptempo system of George Karl into a more deliberate, half-court oriented unit and speaking plainly when his players fell short of his expectations, which they did often this season. But the comments from the likes of Garnett, West and George indicate the level of respect Shaw's accrued from vets around the league, and points toward just how little regard some hold for the work turned in by the mix of players in the Denver locker room this season.
Garnett finished with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting to go with six rebounds, two assists and one block in defeat. The Wolves were +5 in his 21 minutes of floor time in the loss, as the 38-year-old veteran continues to provide on-court value in his return to Minnesota. Apparently, his defensive acumen extends to some folks beyond the Wolves' locker room, too.
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