Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Green Sparks Sixers Past Nuggets

Things were looking pretty blue for the Philadelphia 76ers until Jim O'Brien inserted Willie Green.

Green scored 13 of his season-high 17 points in a seven-minute span of the second half and sparked a stunning turnaround as the 76ers roared back from an 18-point deficit for a 110-102 victory over the Denver Nuggets, their third straight win.

For most of the first three quarters, the 76ers looked lethargic and sloppy, allowing the bigger Nuggets to dominate around the rim and convert turnovers into easy baskets. A one-handed alley-oop slam by Carmelo Anthony capped a 19-6 surge and gave Denver its largest lead at 77-59 with 3:46 left in the third quarter.

That brought out the boo birds at the Wachovia Center and prompted O'Brien to make mass substitutions including Green, who has had a yo-yo second season. Named the starting shooting guard in training camp, he lost his spot, regained it, then lost it again.

Having not played the last two games, Green looked like a colt let out of the barn. His exuberance picked up the defense and led to some badly needed offense as he scored eight points in a 17-4 run that closed the quarter.

"Coach O'Brien said something to me today. He just told to me to not get down on myself and stay ready," Green said. "AI (Allen Iverson) was always staying in my ear. He told me to keep working and stay sharp because my number is going to get called. I was able to go out and have a pretty good game."

"It just says a lot about who he is as a person and as a basketball player," Iverson said. "The stage was set for him to come in make major things happen. Not getting the opportunity to play and then all of a sudden when he gets a chance to play, he gave us the lift that we knew he always could."

It was more of the same in the fourth quarter as Green drilled a 3-pointer and jumper as part of a 12-0 burst that gave Philadelphia the lead for good. Allen Iverson and rookie Andre Iguodala added fast-break baskets that made it 92-86 with 8:19 left.

The stunned Nuggets made four free throws but got no closer. Iverson made a pair of jumpers and Iguodala sank a 3-pointer to cap a 9-1 burst for a 101-90 lead with 5:04 to play. It was at least a two-possession game thereafter, and Green capped the win with four free throws.

"Green just totally changed the entire game in terms of his desperate energy," Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "He was just not going to be denied and his team followed him. It came at a point where we were celebrating. We exhaled and they dug in. Therein lies the story. The game is 48 minutes long and you have to play 48 minutes. We got a little comfortable and full of ourselves."

Green had been averaging 7.6 points per game and had not scored in double figures in December. He made 4-of-5 shots and 8-of-9 free throws, but more important, the Sixers outscored the Nuggets, 51-25, for the 16 minutes he was on the floor.

"I knew that I had to get in there and create some energy," Green said. "If anything, I was going to dive on some loose balls, and foul somebody hard. Anything, just to get a spark on the team. You don't know when your number will get called so, you have to be ready. It's part of being a professional. I was just watching, observing, learning from my mistakes. Then I went out there and played my heart out."

Iverson had 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and Iguodala scored 16 points for Philadelphia, which was swept by Denver last season.

Anthony scored 29 points and Kenyon Martin added 25 for the Nuggets, who fell to 2-2 on their season-high seven-game road trip.

"That was the worst loss of my life," said Nuggets guard Greg Buckner, a former Sixer. "We definitely got too comfortable. The Sixers wanted it more, I guess. They had all the momentum, we just couldn't stop it."

The Sixers played without forward Kenny Thomas, who had flu-like symptoms. The Nuggets were without center Nene, who had a bruised right hip. As a result, Denver was outrebounded, 44-36, and surrendered 20 second-chance points.

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