It took Chauncey Billups less than one full season to guide the Nuggets to a tie for their best record in the NBA history of the franchise. It took him the same amount of time to spearhead Denver to homecourt advantage in a playoff series for the first time since 1988. He only needed one game to rewrite the Nuggets postseason record book.
Billups spectacular 36-point outburst, including record-breaking 8-for-9 shooting from three-point range, provided second-seeded Denver with a memorable start to the 2009 playoffs. Billups made the most treys by a Nuggets player ever in a postseason game, with several of his long-range bombs coming from a few steps beyond the arc.
For No. 7 New Orleans, a second-half eruption by the home team led to a one-sided defeat and continued the Hornets recent woes on the road in the postseason. New Orleans went just 1-4 in road games during the 2008 playoffs, including a pair of routs at San Antonio. Denver only led by an eight-point margin at halftime, but expanded its cushion to 30 midway through the fourth quarter. The Nuggets went on a 21-0 run that bridged the third and fourth periods, breaking it open from 76-69 to 97-69.
By the time the Nuggets wrapped up their 29-point victory, they had outscored the Hornets 58-37 in the second half. Former Hornets guard J.R. Smith had an erratic opening half, but started connecting from long distance after intermission and wound up with 19 points on 8-for-18 shooting.
Particularly while the outcome was still in doubt, this may have been the most physical and confrontational Game 1 of the weekend in the NBA. Almost from the get-go, there was jawing between players on both sides, as well as several hard fouls. Six technical fouls were whistled, with one apiece on the Hornets Chris Paul and Sean Marks.
Its playoff basketball, downplayed Billups at halftime, saying that some of it was expected given the increased intensity with so much at stake in the postseason.
Unfortunately, with under a minute remaining and Denver putting the finishes touches on its rout, a Denver fan behind New Orleans bench reportedly tossed a beer bottle onto the floor, with the object sailing over Hornets players on its way to the court. It was the last memory from a game that New Orleans would just as soon forget.
The Hornets are scheduled to practice over the next two days. Game 2 is at 9:30 p.m. Central time on Wednesday night.
Throughout the 2009 playoffs, we'll be taking a player-by-player look at the roster after games:
Chris Paul: The Nuggets seemed to do a good job of hounding him throughout the game. He and Dahntay Jones were involved in a few scraps and were matched up against one another on both ends. Paul finished with 21 points (7-for-19 shooting) and 11 assists.
Rasual Butler: A Game 1 to forget, he was assigned to cover Billups and picked up his fourth foul by the third quarter. Was 3-for-6 for eight points.
Peja Stojakovic: Showed positive signs on a 5-for-10 night, including 3-for-6 on treys. He winced noticeably after draining one of his threes from the left corner in the second quarter, but it didnt appear to affect him later in the game.
David West: Give the Nuggets credit for forcing him to take contested shots. He struggled to connect on open perimeter looks as well, going 4-for-16 total from the field for 12 points in 32 minutes.
Tyson Chandler: His stats didnt wow you (6 points, 5 rebounds in 27 minutes), but in the first half he kept balls alive on the boards and generally provided the activity in the paint that the Hornets often lack without him available.
James Posey: The Hornets need their top reserve, Stojakovic and Butler to sink outside shots to have a chance to win this series. Posey was 1-for-5 and 0-for-2 from three-point range.
Hilton Armstrong: After being used sparingly late in the regular season, he was back in the mix as the first big man off the bench tonight. Armstrong replaced Chandler about seven minutes into the game when Chandler picked up his second foul. Had six points but was whistled for five fouls.
Antonio Daniels: Five points and four assists in 14 minutes. Drained an open trey in the second quarter to help keep Hornets close at that stage.
Devin Brown: Quiet night in 12 minutes. Was 0-for-2 shooting with two turnovers.
Sean Marks: Entered in second quarter, finished with two points and three boards in seven minutes.
Morris Peterson: Scored five points and played the final nine minutes after the game was out of reach.
Julian Wright: Like Mo Pete, was on the floor for last nine minutes. Threw down a late, high-flying dunk for his two points.