As a sixth-man in the NBA, you never quite know what to expect when it comes to minutes and late-game situations. And if you ask Will Barton if he expects to be on the floor at the end of games, the answer is yes and more often than not this season Denver has closed out opponents with Barton alongside Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic and sometimes Emmanuel Mudiay or Jamal Murray.
Barton’s playmaking is the biggest reason why he’s usually relied upon at the end of games but his defense and specifically his on-ball defense is also why Nuggets’ coach Michael Malone trusts the 26-year-old in high-leverage situations.
Denver didn’t get out to a hot start against the Thunder and found themselves trailing by nine mid-way through the first quarter. But on comes Barton and like he’s done time and time again already this season, he changed the momentum. On this Oklahoma City Thunder possessions which amounted to one of the Nuggets’ best defensive sequences of the night, Barton forces Paul George into a 24-second violation.
The key to this possession is Barton, who immediately coordinates a switch between himself and Harris before eventually teaming up with Mason Plumlee to force a loose ball around the rim.
Barton then finds himself guarding George who has the ball with seven seconds left on the shot clock — more than enough time for the All-Star to get off a good look.
But as George backtracks and readies himself for what in all likelihood will be a pull-up jumper from three, Barton stays glued to his hip. He can see the shot clock on top of the basket on the opposite end of the floor and closes down George’s airspace as the buzzer hits zero and forces the turnover.
Just like Barton did to close out the Miami Heat when he contested Dion Waiters‘ potential game-winning three just enough to force a miss, here, he causes a Thunder turnover which started to turn the momentum back in Denver’s direction after a shaky start to Thursday night’s win.