Billups and Anthony Lead the Way as the Nuggets Advance to the Conference Finals for the First Time Since 1985Chauncey Billups added another chapter to his fairy tale return to Denver, posting 28 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and just two turnovers as the Nuggets beat the Mavericks 124-110 to close out their second round series 4-1 and advance to the Western Conference Finals. Carmelo Anthony had a team-high 30 points, while J.R. Smith contributed 18 points off of the bench. Dirk Nowitzki had 32 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in defeat.
The Mavericks jumped out to a 10-4 lead but then Billups--who prefers to distribute the ball in the first half and then score, if necessary, in the second half--nailed back to back three pointers to kick off a 30-13 run; Billups scored 11 first quarter points overall and the Mavericks never got closer than five points the rest of the way. Billups, who is averaging 22.1 ppg in this year's playoffs, has repeatedly demonstrated a finely tuned understanding of exactly what his team needs at a given moment: he helped the Nuggets overcome any possible first round jitters by scoring 36 and 31 points in games one and two versus the Hornets and his three point shooting in the postseason has been as timely as it has been deadly (33-61, .541). I thought that he looked worn down in the past couple postseasons but Billups has rejuventated himself in Denver and is playing even better in the playoffs than he did in the regular season, something that definitely had not been the case in recent years.
Anthony did not have much of a playoff resume to speak of prior to this season but he is averaging 27.0 ppg in the 2009 playoffs while shooting .480 from the field. After a shaky 13 point performance in game one versus the Hornets he scored at least 22 points in each of the next nine playoff games, including a playoff career-high 41 points in game four of this series.
Nene and Kenyon Martin are both healthy for the first time in a while and they are providing great inside play at both ends of the court, while Dahntay Jones has emerged as a Raja Bell-style defensive irritant. The Nuggets have an excellent bench, led by the scoring prowess of J.R. Smith and the shotblocking of Chris Andersen.
Nowitzki played wonderfully in defeat, averaging 34.4 ppg and 11.6 rpg in this series. Nowitzki averaged 26.8 ppg and 10.1 rpg overall in the playoffs, numbers that his critic Chris Webber could only dream of posting; in Webber's most profilic postseason, 2002, he scored more than 30 points just twice in 16 games and he averaged fewer than 10 rpg in eight of his 10 playoff seasons. Nowitzki played at an MVP level all season long; of course, he was not a serious candidate for the award this year because LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are at a whole different plateau right now, but Nowitzki definitely deserved his selection to the All-NBA First Team. His comments to the media may not suit Webber or Charles Barkley but the only thing that counts is that when Nowitzki was on the court he was productive.
posted by David Friedman @ 6:12 AM