Gary Forbes Impresses in Surprise Start for Nuggets
He had no clue who the guy guarding him was at the start of his 924th game.
"I actually did not... I had not (ever heard of Forbes),'' said the Dallas forward.
The 13-year veteran wasn't alone. Mavericks center Tyson Chandler also had zero knowledge of the guy wearing No. 0 and starting at forward for the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center.
"I didn't know who he was before the game and, for a while, when he kept hitting jump shots, I was trying to figure out who he was,'' Chandler said.
The no-name guy is Gary Forbes, a 6-foot-7 undrafted rookie forward who played in just his third NBA game. Forbes, 25, who got out of Massachusetts in 2008, spent two years banging around the NBA D-League and in Italy and Israel before making the Nuggets on a non-guaranteed contract.
"I think they were surprised to see Gary out there,'' Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony said of the Mavericks. "I was surprised to see Gary.''
Forbes got his unexpected first career start because Nuggets center Nene was ruled out just before the start of Wednesday's game due to a groin strain. So Denver coach George Karl sought out Forbes, who had played 10 minutes combined in Denver's first three games.
Obviously, that was not enough to make the Mavericks' scouting report.
"Probably like 20 minutes before the game, coach told me to be ready to start and be ready to guard Dirk. So that's what I tried to do,'' said Forbes, who said he wasn't nervous because he "got those jitters out in preseason.''
It looked as if it might be a real fairy-tale story for Forbes in his breakout game. He had 12 points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal and a blocked shot in 18 first-half minutes as the undermanned Nuggets took a 52-50 lead.
Alas, the screenwriters must have gone on strike. Forbes didn't have another significant stat in six second-half minutes and the Nuggets ended up losing 102-101.
A fairy-tale ending really took a kick in the gut for the Nuggets when Anthony had a 22-foot jumper that would have given them the victory rim out at the buzzer.
"I think I make that shot nine out of 10 times,'' said Anthony, who admitted he was playing with a sore elbow but didn't want to give details. "It's a heart-breaker.''
It really looked to be a whammy for Nuggets' fans. If Anthony makes the shot, he's cheered wildly and goes to the locker room with a big smile on his face.
Who knows? Maybe feeling just a bit better about Denver would have helped the chances of Anthony, who has not signed a five-year, $64.47 million extension and might be traded, sticking around.
But even though the night did not end well for Denver, there were positives for the home team to take away. The main one is that the old master is indeed back.
With the Nuggets without their three top big men in Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen, the latter two out following offseason knee surgery, most coaches wouldn't have had a chance against a Dallas stable of big men that includes Nowitzki, Chandler and Brendan Haywood. But the Nuggets have Karl, coaching his fourth regular-season game after missing the final month-and-a-half of last season due to a form of throat cancer.
Karl three decades ago coached in the CBA, which had nine-man rosters that were often cut further due to NBA call-ups or injuries. He's a specialist at being able to trick up the game.
So that meant a starting front line of 6-9 Shelden Williams, 6-8 Anthony and 6-7 Forbes. The Nuggets played the last half-quarter with 6-9 Al Harrington, who is undersized as a power forward, at center, Anthony at power forward, 6-5 Arron Afflalo at small forward and 6-3 Chancey Billups and 5-11 Ty Lawson in the backcourt.
"We fought, man,'' Billups said. "I'm happy with the way we fought.''
Anthony, who grabbed 15 rebounds to go along with 20 points, found himself guarding the 7-1 Chandler and 7-foot Haywood. So he often was the center on defense.
No, Denver didn't win. And Nowitzki, with the Nuggets not double-teaming him, scored a game-high 35 points.
But the Nuggets showed they are going to be as scrappy as ever under Karl, and eventually their big men will return. Nene is listed as day-to-day, Andersen is due back by Dec. 1 and the Nuggets are hopeful Martin can return by Jan. 1.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets have discovered Forbes. At least Nowitzki now knows who he is.
"He surprised me,'' Nowitzki said. "He's an energy player. He actually made shots there ... He played hard.''
But he didn't surprise Karl, who raved about Forbes during the preseason. But how many coaches would have had enough guts to have started Forbes on Wednesday, when Karl did have available journeyman big man Melvin Ely and Renaldo Balkman, who has been rotting on the bench in Denver for a few years with no sign of that ending.
"I thought he earned it,'' Karl said of starting Forbes. "He's earned it by what he's done in practice. He's outworked some guys (read: Balkman) in practice.''
The Nuggets play at Dallas on Saturday, which is the Mavericks' next game while Denver first hosts the Clippers on Friday. If Forbes gets the call again, he'll be ready.
"No, it doesn't surprise me,'' Forbes said of Dallas players having no idea who he was. "It's just more fuel to the fire.''
After two years of traveling around the world before landing NBA work, Forbes already had quite a fire burning.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter@christomasson