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Nuggets gut out tough win, even series with Lakers

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The Sports Network
5/22/2009 1:51:36 AM
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Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) - Kenyon Martin hit the go-ahead layup with 29.6 seconds remaining, and Carmelo Anthony poured in 34 points as Denver edged the Los Angeles Lakers, 106-103, evening the Western Conference finals after two games.

Anthony logged his fifth consecutive 30-plus point game in the playoffs as the Nuggets bounced back after a tight, 105-103, loss on Tuesday at the Staples Center.

Chauncey Billups added 27 points for the Nuggets, who snapped an 11-game postseason losing streak to the Lakers. It was Denver's first postseason win over the Lakers since May 14, 1985, the last time the Nuggets were in the conference finals.

"We just got tougher when we should have done that in Game 1," said Billups. "We learned from that and did it in Game 2."

Kobe Bryant scored 32 for the Lakers, who also received 20 points from Trevor Ariza, and 17 points and 17 rebounds from Pau Gasol.

Playing with a fractured left ring finger, Martin put Denver in front after a scramble.

Bryant then had the ball inside the top of the arc, but Nene knocked it away and Gasol dove after it before being tied up on the court by Billups. Gasol won the jump ball with 18.6 seconds left, but Ariza lost his footing and the ball squirted loose, as Billups was fouled with 13.7 seconds to go.

"It looked like Anthony pushed down Trevor and Trevor tried to get rid of the ball," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "No foul was called and they recovered the basketball."

The two free throws from Billups made it a 105-101 difference, but Gasol made a pair from the charity stripe with 7.9 ticks left.

Billups then got free off the inbounds pass before being fouled with 4.3 seconds remaining, but he made just 1-of-2, giving the Lakers a chance to tie. Derek Fisher, though, missed badly on a three-point try from the right corner.

"He had a good look, but Nene made a good play, jumped in the air and got a piece of the ball," said Bryant. "We've seen Derek knock those shots down many times. I can live with that."

Martin and Linas Kleiza each scored 16 points for the Nuggets, who took advantage at the foul line by making 13-of-14 attempts in the last quarter. Billups was 13-of-16 from the charity stripe for the game.

Game 3 of the best-of-seven set is Saturday in Denver. The Nuggets have won their last 16 home games and haven't lost at the Pepsi Center since March 9 against Houston.

While the Nuggets hit their free throws in the fourth, the Lakers were just 9- of-14 from the foul line over the last 12 minutes.

"It was a free throw shooting contest and we caved first," said Bryant. "It was as simple as that."

The game was almost a complete reversal of the opener. On Tuesday, the Nuggets led by as many as 13 before faltering. Two night later the Lakers let a 14- point advantage evaporate, and the Nuggets finally solved LA in the postseason after being swept in the first round last year.

"It was just a demand that we had to win this game," said Nuggets coach George Karl. "There was an inner-spirit. We're a much more smart, mentally-tough team from where we were last year and where we are now."

Less than two minutes into the fourth, Kleiza's three-pointer from the left corner gave the Nuggets an 85-82 lead, their first since seven minutes left in the first quarter.

Anthony's jumper expanded the cushion to 91-84 with nearly nine minutes remaining, but three-pointers from Bryant and Shannon Brown, and then two free throws from Lamar Odom put LA back on top. Brown tacked on a free throw to complete the 9-0 run, and it remained tight until the finish.

Bryant accounted for 14 points in the first quarter as the Lakers powered to a 31-23 lead after 12 minutes. Brown's layup expanded the margin to 41-27 with nearly 7 1/2 minutes left in the half.

"When we were down we kept playing one possession at a time, one quarter at a time," said Martin. "We stayed with it, we made the plays tonight. We eliminated the mind mistakes. The series wasn't over after the first game, we kept fighting and we played smarter tonight."

The scrappy Nuggets closed the gap to 55-54 by halftime, thanks to a great play from Billups. The Nuggets inbounded the ball near the Lakers basket with Billups being the triggerman. But with Bryant having his back turned, Billups intentionally bounced the ball off the back of the perennial All-Star, gathered it and scored a layup with 0.6 seconds left.

"The last time I did that I think I was in high school and I dunked it," said Billups. "That tells you where my athleticism went."

The Lakers led by a 73-66 difference with 4 1/2 minutes left in the third following a Gasol layup, but Chris Andersen drove in for a layup and Billups sank a three-ball. It was 81-80 in favor of LA moving to the fourth.

"The bottom line is we let that lead get away from us in the second quarter and we gave them momentum," said Gasol. "We need to do a better job of attacking. We worked very hard and it got away from us."

Notes: The Nuggets are just 3-14 all-time against the Lakers in the playoffs...This was the Lakers' sixth loss in their last 36 home games...Odom scored 10 points...Bryant upped his total to 4,087 career playoff points, moving him past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (4,070) for second on the Lakers all-time playoff scoring list. Jerry West (4,457) is first...The Lakers have won five straight Conference finals series with their last such series loss coming to Utah in 1998...LA's 11-game playoff streak over Denver was the second-longest postseason win string against one team in NBA history behind the Lakers' 12- game surge against Seattle from 1980-89.

Carmelo Anthony  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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