Nuggets 124 Mavericks 110
DENVER — Chauncey Billups is taking his hometown team to new heights with a big assist from Carmelo Anthony.
Behind 30 points from Anthony and 28 from Billups, the Denver Nuggets beat the Dallas Mavericks 124-110 on Wednesday night to wrap up their semifinal series in five feisty games.
So, the Nuggets are leaving all the animosity with the Mavericks’ players, fans and owner behind and heading to their first Western Conference finals since 1985.
The Nuggets, who are 8-2 in the playoffs after tying their franchise record with a 54-win regular season, will face either Los Angeles or Houston for the conference championship.
“It’s special. We worked hard in the off-season and training camp and throughout,” Anthony said. “We stuck to everything, we overcame adversity, we stayed humble and our hard work paid off.”
Winners of 16 straight games at the Pepsi Center, where no opponent has won since March 9, the Nuggets would start their next series on the road if the Lakers win, and at home if Houston does. The Lakers lead the series 3-2 with Game 6 Thursday night in Houston.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said the combination of Billups, a proven winner, and Anthony, “who’s just taking quantum leaps as a great player and leader,” makes the Nuggets a true title contender.
“These guys are legitimate, a legitimate championship-calibre team,” Carlisle said. “They’ve got a great shot. They’ve got a real opportunity.”
The Nuggets didn’t dare dream of this type of success when the season began following the departures of defensive stalwarts Marcus Camby and Eduardo Najera.
“Sometimes when you’re forced to come together and fight together and persevere, your best qualities come forward,” Denver coach George Karl said.
The impetus for the transformation came when the team made its biggest trade ever, Allen Iverson to Detroit for Billups, who turned his hometown team from an afterthought into a championship contender after leading the Pistons to six straight Eastern Conference finals and the NBA championship in 2004.
“We love Allen, Allen’s family,” Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke said. “But as Allen has said many times it’s still a business. Chauncey was right for us, with the different personalities we have on the club Chauncey was a really important part.”
“He’s a leader,” Anthony said of Billups. “He came on this team and he brought a businesslike attitude to our team. He brought a defensive mindset we were looking for.”
Fired up from the ugliness on and off the court in Dallas in Games 3 and 4, the Nuggets came out in front of their home crowd with a passion and shot 64 per cent in the first half while building a 69-55 lead.
The Mavericks wouldn’t go down easily, though, making five straight three-pointers, three by Jason Kidd, to pull within 79-72.
The Mavericks were within 103-97 with seven minutes left but Anthony took the inbounds pass and with two seconds on the shot clock, hit a turnaround 25-foot jumper at the buzzer. Antoine Wright was assessed a technical and Billups’ free throw made it a 10-point game with 6:35 left.
“That ’Melo three was a killer,” Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki said. “We get the technical on top. Back to 10 points.”