HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Corey Brewer is no longer just a smiling, string-bean of a kid who likes to remind people he’s a two-time NCAA champion. Nope, the 6-foot-9 Brewer is now a smiling, string-bean of an NBA man.
Finally having found a home with the Denver Nuggets where he can stretch his legs and exploit his raw athleticism, Brewer is also becoming something else: Clutch.
Brewer saved the Nuggets’ winning streak that reached 14 Thursday night with a career-high 29 points that included outscoring the Philadelphia 76ers, 6-0, in the final 9.2 seconds to secure the improbable 101-100 victory. Brewer first drilled his fifth 3-pointer of the game on a play out of a timeout in which Danilo Gallinari, Denver’s most dangerous 3-point threat, got the ball to Brewer open on the wing to make it 100-98.
Sixers guard Evan Turner then missed both free throws with 7.1 seconds left to set up Brewer’s final act, calmly sinking three consecutive free throws after inexplicably being fouled by Damian Wilkins on a deep 3 that didn’t seem to have a prayer. Brewer, a 67.5 percent foul shooter this season (but much better the last two months), hit them all.
After the first and second free throws, he walked to mid-court, could be seen talking to himself, then walked back up to the line and buried the shots that kept the streak alive.
Nuggets coach George Karl has talked a lot recently about his high level of trust with his team and he showed it in leaving Brewer in for the crunch-time minutes. The emerging sixth man has done it before. According to NBA.com/Stats, Brewer has scored 12 points in eight minutes while playing in the final minute of games that Denver either trails or is tied.
During those confidence-building opportunities, Brewer is 3-for-4 from the floor, 2-for-3 from 3-point range — where he’s just 30.4 percent on the season — and 4-for-4 from the free throw line. His plus-minus rating is a plus-16.
Brewer, who turned 27 on March 5, has been coming on strong over the last couple months and particularly during the win streak. Traditionally an inconsistent shooter, Brewer has averaged 14.9 points in March and is shooting 48.9 percent from the floor and 34.4 percent from beyond the arc. His free throw shooting is also vastly improved — 76.3 percent in February and 72.4 percent in March.
His plus-minus rating might be the most significant jump of all. In November, December and January, Brewer was a plus-two overall, meaning the Nuggets outscored their opponents by two points with Brewer on the floor. In February and March he’s an astounding plus-87.
Brewer has found the perfect home for his raw talents with Karl’s up-tempo Nuggets. Brewer languished on a young Minnesota Timberwolves teams in the post-Kevin Garnett era, and as part of the blockbuster Carmelo Anthony trade, he landed with the New York Knicks, but was released and signed by the Dallas Mavericks.
He played sporadically for the Mavs, but provided the key energy boost in the third quarter of Game 1 of the 2011 Western Conference semifinals against the Lakers. He then played a total of 11 minutes the rest of the way as the Mavs won the title.
Dallas then traded Brewer and Rudy Fernandez to Denver for a bag of beans (2016 second-round draft pick).
On Thursday, Brewer provided the energy and scoring punch (10-for-18 shooting and 5-for-6 on 3s) for a Nuggets team playing without Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler. It marked his 12th double-digit scoring game during the win streak and eighth in a row, and it was his third game in the last 10 to score at least 20 points.
But none were bigger than six he dropped on the Sixers in the final 9.2 seconds.
“It’s a pretty big highlight,” Brewer told the Denver Post of the frantic finish, “Probably my best highlight since I was in the NBA.”