DENVER (AP) - Arron Afflalo saved the game and Ty Lawson wrapped it up.
So much for the notion the Denver Nuggets don't have a reliable late-game closer.
These days, they just may have two.
Afflalo hit three free throws with 0.6 seconds left in regulation and Lawson made a 3-pointer with four seconds remaining in overtime, allowing the Nuggets to rally for a 119-116 victory over the struggling Sacramento Kings on Monday night.
``I don't even know if I want to watch the film, because the film may say we lost,' Nuggets coach George Karl said.
Go ahead and view it. Afflalo made sure it had a rewarding finish.
Afflalo finished with a career-high 32 points, but none bigger than his three free throws that helped the Nuggets pull out an improbable win and improve to 4-0 since the All-Star break.
With time winding down in regulation, Afflalo launched a deep and desperate 3-point attempt that was well off the mark.
But over the shrill of the final buzzer came the shriek of an official's whistle as Marcus Thornton was called for grazing Afflalo's arm. The referees huddled for a second to make sure the foul happened before the final horn - it did - and then Afflalo calmly stepped up to the free throw line.
To break Afflalo's rhythm for the final shot, the Kings called timeout. It hardly mattered as he swished the last one to tie the score at 108.
``People don't understand, making three free throws in a row is very difficult,' Karl said.
Yet Afflalo made it appear easy simply by keeping his focus.
``I'm just thinking about making free throws. I wasn't thinking about nothing before or after,' Afflalo explained.
After that, it was Lawson's turn to step into the spotlight.
The speedy point guard came up with a clutch basket for the second straight night.
On the decisive play in overtime, Lawson dribbled up top to take time off the clock and then, fighting an urge to drive to the hoop, let go a 3-pointer that hardly touched any of the rim.
``I've become comfortable taking those shots at the end,' said Lawson, who finished with 16 points and 13 assists. ``I was working on that little pull-up shot during the break.'
It's definitely been effective.
Lawson hit a similar one to lift the Nuggets over San Antonio the night before.
``This game meant a lot for us,' Lawson said. ``To come back home on a back-to-back and (against) Sacramento - everybody is thinking, `Oh, we just will beat them.' I think at one point we had no business winning. This was a big win.'
And a crushing blow for the Kings.
Thornton and Tyreke Evans each had 27 points for the Kings, who dropped their fourth straight on the day they announced they had extended the contract of coach Keith Smart through the 2012-13 season.
After the game, Thornton insisted he didn't touch Afflalo on the shot. Then, he took full responsibility.
``It's on me. I can't do that. I take this loss. I have to be smarter,' Thornton said. ``Foul early on. Just stay down. I thought I did a good job of contesting. It didn't go that way. So, I take this loss.'
Smart took this loss as simply another step in the learning process for his young squad.
``We are growing and moving in the right direction,' Smart said. ``It just came down to micro moments of management and we didn't come through at that time.'
Once a banged-up bunch, the Nuggets are steadily returning to health. Leading scorer Danilo Gallinari was back after missing 13 games with a left ankle sprain. So was Brazilian center Nene, who sat out 10 games with a calf strain.
Not surprisingly, Gallinari and Nene both showed some early rust from their long layoffs.
Gallinari didn't hit his first basket until swishing a 3-pointer with 4:04 remaining in the third quarter. He had just four points on the evening.
Nene finished with six points in just over 15 minutes.
When Gallinari hobbled off the court on Feb. 6, it appeared as if he might be sidelined for quite some time after tests revealed a chip fracture in his left foot. But further examinations later showed the fracture wasn't caused by his stumble and may have actually occurred before he joined the NBA in 2008.
The versatile Italian forward proved to be a fast healer, returning nearly to the day the team had predicted.
The Nuggets were 6-7 without Gallinari, one of the players they're counting on to deliver big shots at crunch time.
But with the game on the line the healing Gallinari was on the bench, not the floor.
Even with the return of Gallinari and Nene, the Nuggets are far from full strength. They were missing swingman Rudy Fernandez (back) and center Kosta Koufos (left knee).
However, Timofey Mozgov played Monday despite an ailing left ankle. He had eight early points before appearing to hurt his ankle again. Mozgov didn't play in the second half.
Notes: Kings F J.J. Hickson missed the three-game road swing with a hip pointer. ... The Kings will begin a franchise-record nine-game homestand on Wednesday against New Orleans. ... Lawson was named the Western Conference player of the week Monday. ... The Nuggets are 13-3 against the Kings at home since 2003-04. ... Afflalo's previous best performance was 31 against Phoenix last January.
The Associated Press News Service
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