By Chris Tomasson, for NBA.com
Posted Apr 20 2009 6:03AM
DENVER -- NBA commissioner David Stern apparently is allowed to have favorite players. And one guy on his list really gave him his money's worth Sunday night.
Check that. Stern didn't pay for his seat at the Pepsi Center for Game 1 of a West first-round series between Denver and New Orleans. But he sure was given a show by Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups.
"Chauncey Billups always has been a favorite of mine,'' Stern said before the game. "It's fun to watch and read about him being home [in Denver].''
Billups actually didn't know until after the game Stern was on hand, which does mess up the story a little bit about Billups perhaps wanting to light it up in front of the commissioner.
Then again, it was hard to complain about Billups scoring 36 points and hitting a career-high eight 3-pointers (in just nine attempts) in Denver's resounding 113-84 win.
"That's an honor,'' Billups said when told what Stern said. "He's seen every player you can possibly see during his time as commissioner. It's an honor for him to say something about that like me. I play the right way. I play for my teammates every single night, not for anybody else.''
Well, Billups' teammates needed him to score more than usual Sunday. Both teams got off to a sluggish starts, and the Hornets led by a meager 6-5 as the clock ticked down to under 7:30 left in the first quarter.
That's when Billups took over, making his first three-pointer. Three more followed in the first quarter, and Billups had 16 points for a 27-25 Denver lead.
Billups' offense came in quite handy on a night Denver's scoring stars struggled. Carmelo Anthony shot just 4-of-12 for 13 points while Nuggets guard J.R. Smith, who had scored a career-high 45 points the previous Monday, had a scoreless first quarter before finishing with 19.
"It was a pretty good show, man,'' Nuggets coach George Karl said of Billups' outing. "It was a big-time show in playoff basketball.''
The show reached a peak in the third quarter, when Billups scored 18 points as the Nuggets extended a 55-47 lead to 87-69. Billups shot 4-of-5 from 3-point range in the quarter.
Had Billups not taken a seat for good with 7:55 left in the game and the Nuggets up 100-71, he almost surely would have broken his playoff mark of 40 points in a game. That was set May 2, 2003 at Orlando, the same night he had made his previous career playoff high of seven 3-pointers (he also has made seven three times in regular-season games).
But leave it to the modest Billups to want to talk more about defense after the game than his shooting display in front of the commissioner.
"People are going to talk about how I hit shots, hit threes and the guys kind of rallied around me,'' Billups said. "But that was all secondary. Our defense is what really won this game for us.''
Yes, the Nuggets did hold New Orleans to 37.2 percent shooting, with power forward Kenyon Martin the main reason high-scoring counterpart David West shot just 4-of-16. And, yes, Billups also was strong on defense, one of three players who helped hold Hornets star point guard Chris Paul to 7-of-19 shooting.
Still, it had to be special for Billups, who shot 10-of-15 overall, to have such an offensive explosion in his first playoff game in his hometown. Unless you've been on an extended safari, you know the Denver native was acquired Nov. 3 from Detroit in a move that turned around the Nuggets' season.
"It's special, especially for somebody like me that grew up here all my life and rooted for the hometown team all my life,'' said Billups, who also played for the Nuggets from 1998-2000, but didn't appear in the Playoffs. "For me to have a chance to be playing in the playoffs on a really good team at home, in front of all my family and all my fans, it's special. It's just a feeling that you have playing at home that not a lot of people get to experience.''
Regardless of where the game is, not a lot of players shot 8-of-9 on 3-pointers.
Billups got a number of his 3-pointers holding up on the break, a shot that's been a favorite since his high school days in Denver. He also seemed to be salivating when he found Hornets guard Rasual Butler on him to start the game.
"I think that he felt the matchup with Rasual on him was kind of easy for him to get by when he wanted to,'' said New Orleans coach Byron Scott. "Then, when they gave him space, he knocked down threes. So, now you're in a catch-22. When he's making shots at that rate, it's almost impossible to stop him. We've got to do a better job of obviously playing him a little better than we did this game.''
The Hornets have until Wednesday's Game 2 to dust themselves off, and try to figure out how to stop Billups.
As for Game 2, Stern won't be on hand. But you better believe there will plenty of fans at the Pepsi Center who also list Billups as a favorite player.
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