Billups, Nuggets take series opener from Hornets

The Canadian Press
4/20/2009 2:39:00 AM
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DENVER -- Chauncey Billups settled down his teammates, then stepped up his game.

Billups scored 36 points and sank a career-best eight three-pointers in leading Denver to a 113-84 rout of the New Orleans Hornets, the second-biggest blowout in the Nuggets' playoff history.

"I just got it going. It's just one of those special nights that you have sometimes," Billups said after his first postseason appearance in his hometown.

"You'd like to think you can do it again, but you probably can't."

Capitalizing on their first home-court edge in a playoff series in 21 years, the Nuggets nearly bested their previous biggest margin of victory, a 141-111 wallop of San Antonio back in 1985.

Billups sank four of his threes in the third quarter, when the Nuggets began to turn a tight game into a laughter. At one point, they led by 34.

"I say all the time he's a winner but he doesn't have a lot of skills," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "Tonight he had a lot of skills."

Denver used a 21-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to build a 97-69 cushion, a run that was highlighted by Billups' seventh and eighth threes, which set a team franchise record. Billups was one shy of the NBA playoff single-game record of nine three-pointers held by Ray Allen, Rex Chapman and Vince Carter.

"What Chauncey did wasn't a surprise. He's done it throughout his career. He's very good at making that shot and he made a lot of them tonight," the Hornets' James Posey said.

"Chauncey got it going. He was pulling up in transition and attacking the basket and getting to the line. We didn't have an answer."

Billups was 8-for-9 from beyond the arc, and the best long-range performance of Billups' career helped negate all-star point guard Chris Paul's big game.

The all-star had 21 points and 11 assists but also an abundance of angst as the Nuggets dominated the boards, set the tempo and ran away with it in the second half.

Before tip-off, Hornets coach Byron Scott characterized the key matchup in this series as that of "an old warrior in Chauncey against this young thoroughbred that really wants to get up and down the floor."

Chalk up Round 1 to the grizzled veteran.

"We just couldn't stop him tonight," Paul said.

The Nuggets host the Hornets for Game 2 on Wednesday night.

"That's the best thing about tonight: we lost by 29 points tonight, but it's just 1-0," Paul said.

Billups' arrival in the Allen Iverson trade a week into the season transformed the Nuggets from an afterthought into the Western Conference's No. 2 seed. He took all their immense individual talents and blended them into a cohesive unit that looks primed to finally make some noise in the playoffs.

The Nuggets are one of four teams making their sixth straight postseason appearance, joining Dallas, San Antonio and Detroit. But while the Nuggets are just 5-20 in the postseason during that stretch, each of the other three have reached the NBA Finals.

Both teams started out shaky as everyone on the floor seemingly had butterflies -- save for Billups, who wasn't fazed a bit by the postseason atmosphere -- he's been to six straight conference finals with the Pistons and won the NBA title and Finals MVP trophy in 2004.

Billups, who averaged 17.7 points in the regular season sank four three-pointers and scored 16 points in the first quarter until his teammates settled down and took a 55-47 lead into the locker room at the half.

"He's a winner, that's the bottom line, and he's going to come ready to play," Scott said.

The game was still tight and a little bit chippy when the Nuggets turned a 76-69 lead into a blowout by holding the Hornets without a point for nearly seven minutes.

Denver's bench performed as expected as the Nuggets got 19 points from J.R. Smith, 13 from Linas Kleiza and nine from Chris Andersen, who blocked four shots.

Carmelo Anthony scored 13 on 4-of-12 shooting but said he wasn't bothered by his sub-par offense.

"Tonight, I didn't make a lot of shots that I normally make. That's a good thing. Chauncey stepped up, J.R. stepped up. As a team we played defense," Anthony said. "As far as me, I'm not really worrying about me. I know what I can do out there."

Hornets center Tyson Chandler, who had played just 20 minutes since inflammation in his left ankle forced him out of the Hornets' lineup on March 2, started and logged 27 minutes, scoring six points and pulling down five boards while committing five fouls.

Chandler missed all four games against Denver this season, and the teams split 2-2.

Kenyon Martin committed a hard foul on Paul as the nimble point guard drove past him and to the hoop in the second quarter. Sean Marks took exception to the foul, walking across the lane to holler at Martin. Both Marks and Martin were given technical fouls. Paul and Dahntay Jones were whistled for a double-technical in the third.

Notes: Billups' eight threes bested the Nuggets' old playoff high of six set by Michael Adams in 1989 and tied by Voshon Leonard in 2004. ... Billups' previous playoff high for threes was seven at Orlando in 2003, and his regular season high was also seven, which he accomplished three times, the last on Jan. 11, 2004, against Dallas. ... Nene briefly left the game after getting poked in his left eye by Devin Brown late in the third quarter. ... Grammy-award winning rapper Lil Wayne, a native of New Orleans, had a front-row seat. ... A fan threw a bottle on the floor in the closing minutes but nobody was struck on the court, and Paul said a fan threw a giveaway towel in his face at halftime.

Chauncey Billups (Photo: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)


(Photo: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
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