April 20, 2013
DENVER – Andre Miller, the Denver Nuggets crafty old man, sat on the bench, listening to the instructions of coach George Karl. There were 14.5 seconds left in the Nuggets' thrilling, sloppy struggle with the Golden State Warriors.
It was, of course, oh-so dramatic. The game was tied. The crowd was roaring.
“I was tired, actually,” he said a few minutes after the Nuggets' 97-95 win. He wanted no part of overtime. He wanted to go home to rest his weary 37-year-old body.
With the clock ticking down, Miller dribbled, looking into the eyes of 23-year-old Draymond Green. He bolted past the kid and glanced over at Warriors giant Andrew Bogut lurking to the left. Miller wisely and expertly shifted the ball to his right hand and hit a floating, point-blank bank shot with 1.2 seconds left.
“Never made a game-winning shot,” Miller said in his high, sing-song voice.
He’s made one now. As the game ended, Miller was mobbed by his teammates, who circled around him, hugging him, rubbing his skull, shouting his praises.
Let’s be clear: Miller deserves the fuss. It’s become fashionable to believe the Nuggets are destined for the Western Conference finals, but they never will travel there with this level of performance.
Miller lifted the Nuggets with 28 points, scoring 18 of the team’s 26 points in the fourth quarter. He shot 69 percent from the field. His teammates shot 39 percent. Those are frightening numbers.
Karl is an unabashed Miller fan. He’s called Miller one of history’s top-five point guards. He wanted the ball and the game in the old man’s hands in the final seconds.
“When the game is in that guts and glory situation, Andre is pretty damn good,” Karl said.
The word unique is overused, but Miller is unique. He was a superb high school quarterback, and I sometimes wonder what he might have done on a college and NFL field.
He plays basketball with the attitude of a football player. He’s all shoulders and hips and aggression. Our basketball world is packed with basketball players who leave bruises when they play defense.
With Miller, it’s different. You feel sorry for the player who is covering him. He’s violent with the ball in his hands.
His game never will be described as graceful. He can’t soar, and his jump shot ranks among the ugliest on the planet.
“Some people would say his jump shot is broken,” Karl once told me. “But I say the guy is a damn winner.”
This is true. Miller normally chases victory as the most generous of players, but generous was not going to deliver a win Saturday. He realized someone needed to save his lost teammates in the fourth quarter, and he realized that someone was him.
In the final minutes, he essentially ignored his teammates and focused his eyes on the rim. It was Andre time.
The oldest man on the court lifted his team Saturday. All you Nuggets optimists out there must realize this will fail as a lasting formula for victory.
Still, it was a magnificent show. At bars and living rooms all across the Front Range, fans were filled with energy as the final seconds approached.
Miller was weary. He just wanted to go home with a win.