Published December 10, 2010
| Associated Press
TORONTO – George Karl found peace and contentment in recording a coaching milestone.
Karl earned his 1,000th coaching victory, as Al Harrington scored a season-high 31 points and Nene added 26 to help the Denver Nuggets hold off the Toronto Raptors 123-116 on Friday night.
The seventh coach in NBA history with 1,000 wins, Karl also notched his 900th in Toronto, a 114-107 victory on Dec. 31, 2008. He shook hands with spectators as fans next to the Nuggets' bench bowed to him in the final seconds of the game. He was hugged by Denver's players and assistant coaches at the final buzzer.
After doing radio and television interviews on the court, Karl shared a moment of "peacefulness and contentment" with his team inside the locker room.
"I just felt together with them, I felt connected with them," Karl said. "A lot of times during an NBA season, the coach and players aren't really connected, they're fighting a lot. This was a moment, not only on the court but in the locker room afterwards, there was a great connection."
Chauncey Billups called it "a moment that you'll never forget."
"He's one of the best coaches I've played for," Billups said. "He's all about winning, he's all about playing the right way and sharing the basketball and everybody having their opportunities out there. I believe that's the way you win basketball games. Obviously, with 1,000 wins, he knows what he's doing."
Karl survived prostate cancer in 2005 and was treated for neck and throat cancer earlier this year, missing the end of last season while undergoing treatment.
"It's unbelievable," Billups said. "He's got 1,000 wins and he beat cancer twice. Those are his biggest wins."
Billups scored 21 points and Gary Forbes had 15 in place of the injured Carmelo Anthony as the Nuggets snapped a two-game losing streak. J.R. Smith scored 11 points for Denver.
Former Nugget Linas Kleiza set season highs with 26 points and 12 rebounds, and Leandro Barbosa matched his season high with 22 points, but Toronto lost its fourth straight. The Raptors have dropped six of eight.
"Our forwards couldn't stay with Harrington at all," Toronto coach Jay Triano said. "He just drove past them."
Andrea Bargnani scored 24 and Sonny Weems had 21.
Anthony missed his second straight game because of a sore right knee, with Forbes starting in his place. Anthony, the 10th-leading scorer in the NBA at 22.8 points per game, also sat out Wednesday's loss at Boston, the only other game he's missed this season.
"Without Melo, if you'd told me we were going to get 123, I would have taken that," Karl said. "It's kind of shocking that we scored that many points."
Trailing by 12 points to begin the final quarter, Toronto cut it to 111-104 on a 3-pointer by Weems with 4:28 to play. Smith answered with a 3 for Denver, restoring the 10-point lead.
After Bargnani hit a jumper and Nene made two at the line, Kleiza cut it 116-109 by making a 3-pointer with 2:18 left. After a timeout, Harrington drove for a layup but landed awkwardly and injured his left ankle. He stayed in the game.
Toronto wasn't done, and a 3-pointer by Bargnani made it 120-116 with 46 seconds to go. But after a missed shot by Billups, Weems lost the ball out of bounds, giving possession back to Denver.
"I don't get worried until it's under four," Karl said. "That's my credo. Four or above, we're OK. When they had a shot and they fumbled it out of bounds, I was a little worried there."
Billups sealed it by making three of four free throws in the closing seconds.
Billups scored 15 points in the first, going 8 for 8 at the line, as Denver led 39-33 after one quarter.
Kleiza scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the second quarter, but Harrington replied with 16 points and five rebounds as Denver widened its lead, holding a 74-65 edge at the half.
Forbes scored 13 points in the third as the Nuggets led by as many as 19 before Toronto ended the quarter on a 6-0, cutting the deficit to 98-86 heading into the fourth.
The teams combined for 22 3-pointers, including 12 by the Nuggets.
Notes: Raptors guard Jose Calderon (left foot) did not dress, while Peja Stojakovic (left knee) missed his seventh straight game. ... Karl joins Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan, Phil Jackson and Larry Brown as the only coaches with 1,000 wins.