Bulls Nuggets Basketball Campazzo

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, center, is trapped with the ball by Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo, left, and forward Michael Porter Jr. in overtime of an NBA game Friday, March 19, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

No player who stepped on the court Friday at Ball Arena scored fewer points than Facundo Campazzo in the Nuggets’ 131-127 overtime win over Chicago, but few players can claim to have made a bigger impact.

In 34 minutes of court time, Campazzo missed his only shot from the field and finished with two humble points, making his only free throws late in the third quarter. The other stuff — the eight assists, four rebounds, arguably the game’s two biggest defensive plays and a plus-10 differential in those minutes — better showcased his value in an improbable win. Denver led for just 55 seconds of the final three quarters of regulation.

Campazzo’s only official steal came with Denver a bucket away from erasing a 15-point advantage with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter. Chicago’s Thaddeus Young had just received a pass while rolling to the hoop when Campazzo left his man, timed Young’s dribble and came up with the steal. He raced down the court, forced Bulls' guard Zach LaVine to stop his drive and sprayed a pass to the left wing where Jamal Murray was waiting to sink one of his six 3-pointers, giving the Nuggets a late lead.

“He’s so aggressive, but it’s like legal defense,” Murray said afterward. “It’s not even a foul. He’s just in front of you, and he’s giving his body, putting his body on the line. He gets strips and deflections.”

With less than a minute left in the fourth and the Bulls back in front by three, Campazzo caught Chicago’s All-Star slipping.

“We just put him on Zach (LaVine) just because of his tenacity, his energy,” Michael Porter Jr. said.

LaVine caught an in-bounds pass after a Nikola Jokic 3-pointer with 37 seconds left and turned to find the pesky and persistent 5-foot-10 Argentine ready to pressure the ball the length of the court.

“He’s a player that just gets under your skin,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He’s always there. He’s one of those guys that nobody likes playing against because he’s just there all the time. That’s why everybody loves him on our team, because they don’t have to play against him.”

One right-to-left spin move allowed LaVine to advance the ball over midcourt. When he set up the same move a second or two later, Campazzo snuck his left hand between LaVine’s hip and the ball and cleanly poked the ball free. He couldn’t get to the loose ball but forced LaVine into a foul in pursuit.

“I’m an emotional guy, passionate guy,” Campazzo said. “I follow, sometimes, my emotions in the game. I think I did that in that moment. I followed my heart and my intensity.”

Murray made the possession count with a bucket before LaVine again made it a three-point game. Murray hit the tying 3-pointer just before the fourth-quarter buzzer and gave the Nuggets the lead for good with another 3 in the first 20 seconds of overtime.

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“All that happened because of Facu’s steal,” said Jokic, who assisted the game-tying 3-pointer and matched Murray’s game-high 34 points. “That was a main thing.”

The fact that Campazzo was out there for the final minutes and overtime shows what his coach thinks of his progress as a first-year NBA player. The 29-year-old came to the league a relative unknown to most basketball fans who don’t closely follow international competitions or top European leagues. If opponents aren’t familiar with his game beyond the how’d-he-do-that passes that make the rounds on social media, that benefits Campazzo.

“They don’t know me, and I try to take advantage of that,” Campazzo said. “(Bring) more energy, (bring) more defense, be smart.”

When it mattered most Friday, Campazzo was on the court and effectively played Monte Morris’ role with the starting five.

“I trust Facu out there. I trust him to run his team, to make plays for everybody. I trust him to go out there and guard the other team’s perimeter players,” Malone said. “Zach LaVine is an All-Star — rightfully so — and I thought (Facu) had some pretty good possessions on him as well as all their other guards. Every chance Facu gets to go out there and compete and help us win, that’s only building more trust and comfort level with the entire team.”

Sunday, when the 25-16 Nuggets host the Pelicans in the finale of a five-game homestand, Campazzo will simply look to get better regardless of what that looks like in the box score.

“I get more confident every day, every game, thanks to my coach and my teammates,” Campazzo said. “So, I think the mentality … it’s very important to be ready every time, to be ready (for) every opportunity, and then just try to take control when I can take it.”

Morris commits to play for Nigeria

Monte Morris joined the list of Nuggets who could have a shortened offseason this week.

Morris recently committed to play for the Nigerian team in international competitions, though some technicalities had to be sorted out, according to an ESPN report. Morris is expected to miss Denver’s game against New Orleans on Sunday with a quadriceps strain, but he could join teammates Nikola Jokic (Serbia) and Jamal Murray (Canada) at the Olympics this summer, should they be played. Spencer Dinwiddie, a former standout at Colorado and current member of the Brooklyn Nets, also plans to play for Nigeria.

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