The Denver Nuggets narrowly defeated the Miami Heat in Denver at the Pepsi Center thanks to Paul Millsap’s clutch free-throw shooting late in the game but much more went into the 95-94 victory.

With 2:11 left in the fourth quarter, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone decided to pull Emmanuel Mudiay out of the game – who looked like he was set to close – and inserted the  longer, and stronger Will Barton as the lead ball-handler. He took advantage of the opportunity presented to him.

“We closed the game with Will Barton playing point guard and he may have set the most important screen of the night to get Paul Millsap open on that side out-of-bounds,” Malone explained. “That was great.”

Below is the out of bounds play that Malone referenced above. Look at Barton, who starts out at the bottom right of the video clip below. Before the ball is even in-bounded he already has James Johnson in his sights. With just 31 seconds left, Barton fakes like he is going to sprint out to the top of the key but instead he redirects to put down a screen on Johnson, who is covering Millsap.

This play may not seem like much but the space that Barton is able to clear for Millsap is what allows the Nuggets a chance to take the lead, even if Millsap missed both free throws directly after, but that is not the point of the play. The point is that Barton went out of his way to do something small, like setting a strong screen, and that small act of extra effort allowed Millsap an opportunity to take the lead from the charity stripe (he subsequently missed both free throws).

Barton did not just set a strong screen to help the Nuggets either. His impact went even further as he was able to lock up Dion Waiters, who took the final shot for Miami.

“We knew it was either going to (Waiters) or Dragic when Dragic came to set the screen to try and get the switch,” Harris explained. “They went ISO so, you know, Will said he was going to lock it up and that is what he did.”

Look above how Barton picks up Waiters and hounds him the rest of the possession, even at one point forcing him to pass the ball before getting it back and getting a shot up. Barton refused to let Waiters have any space and because of that Denver was able to hold onto the win. But the story does not end there.

Barton did not just lock up Waiters. Barton went out of his way to ask to be matched up with him for the last possession.

Everyone in the building knew that it was going to be Waiters who was going to take the last shot so Barton went over to Wilson Chandler, who seemingly would have been the defender who would have picked up Waiters, and asked to take on the challenge himself. Chandler confirmed this after the game.

“Will came to me right before the huddle and said he wanted to go at (Waiters) so I let him and he played great defense on him,” Chandler explained.

Barton asking for the defensive challenge is a breath of fresh air for a Nuggets team that recorded the second-worst defensive rating (110.5) in the league last season. The Nuggets renewed vigor defensively was easily the most impactful reason for why they were able to escape with a win versus the Heat.

“We were able to execute down the stretch and get that big defensive stop,” Gary Harris said. “Will Barton had a great play and great defense. The ball went in and out and we were able to get the win. It was cool. It was a good win and we got another one tomorrow.”

With the Nuggets turning their attention to the defending world champion Warriors – who visit the Pepsi Center in Denver for the first time this season – Paul Millsap echoed what Harris had to say after the tightly-contested victory over the Heat. The win over the Heat was big and the loss would have stung but all of the focus is now on the Warriors.

“It would have been a tough loss, especially going into tomorrow against a really good team,” Millsap said. “I am glad we got this one; our confidence is up. We are playing really good basketball offensively and defensively so tomorrow should be a good challenge for us.”