Two days after their historic one-sided defeat in Game 4, the Hornets surprised many observers by standing toe-to-toe against the Nuggets for one half tonight. From that point on, however, it was a frustrating case of déjà vu for the guests at the Pepsi Center.
For the third time in Colorado during this first-round series, host Denver ran away from New Orleans after intermission, putting together an explosive run that virtually sealed the outcome. Tonights decisive surge was a 14-0 spurt that turned a tie game into a 76-62 Nuggets lead late in the third quarter.
As a result, Denver ended New Orleans season. The Nuggets celebrated after advancing past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. Carmelo Anthony helped ensure his initial appearance in the Western Conference semifinals by pouring in 34 points on 13-for-25 shooting. He was able to get to the rim at will, particularly in the second half.
Give credit to the Nuggets, who demonstrated their superiority in this series by posting all of their victories by double figures. They will face the sixth-seeded Mavericks in the second round. Denver fans, starved for postseason success, began chanting We want Dallas! during the final few minutes tonight.
An overview of how the Hornets fared in this series:
Chris Paul: During TNTs telecast of Game 5, Marv Albert mentioned that Paul had said he cant sprint the way he wants to due to the knee injury he sustained in a Game 3 collision with J.R. Smith. Paul seemed to lack explosiveness and some of the quickness that helped him gain his status as the NBAs premier point guard. He finished the series averaging 16.6 points and 10.4 assists. He normally shoots a very high percentage for a point guard, but in this series he was down to 41 percent. The Nuggets did an excellent job of hounding him and capitalized on his semi-wounded state.
Rasual Butler: Overall, he was fairly solid in the series, shooting over 50 percent from three-point range. One wrinkle tonight was the Hornets had him handling the ball more than he just about ever does, allowing CP3 to rest a bit more on offense and not have to exert as much energy there.
Peja Stojakovic: Started well tonight, but finished 5-for-12, part of a subpar shooting series. He shot 37 percent from the field over the five games and just 31 percent from three-point range. He was overmatched trying to guard Anthony, unable to keep him out of the lane on dribble drives.
David West: His 24-point, nine-rebound outing tonight was the best he played in the series, but he had to be frustrated by the fact that as soon as he got rolling offensively, he started picking up fouls and had to sit. He shot 40 percent from the floor in the series and was repeatedly forced into fadeaways and difficult attempts by Kenyon Martin and the Nuggets interior defenders.
Tyson Chandler: Missed his first game of the series tonight due to his aggravated ankle injury. He was nowhere near his usual self against Denver, averaging 3.8 points and 5.3 rebounds.
James Posey: He was one of the few Hornets who upped his performance in the playoffs in comparison to the regular season, despite a nagging elbow injury to his non-shooting arm. He put up 18 points tonight and had been a rare bright spot in Game 4.
Sean Marks: Made more nice contributions in the first half tonight, finishing with four points, five rebounds and two steals. Overall did a quality job throughout the series, including becoming an unexpected hero of Game 3.
Antonio Daniels: Had diminished role tonight with Butler taking over some of the ballhandling duties, instead of Daniels being on the floor with CP3. Daniels was 2-for-13 shooting in the series.
Hilton Armstrong: You never really knew what to expect for him over the past couple weeks. He was out of the rotation late in the regular season, then back in it during Game 1 of the playoffs. That theme continued tonight when he was elevated to the starting center role due to Chandlers absence. Armstrong was mistake-prone early in the game tonight, but followed that up with some very good moments (7 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block) before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
Julian Wright: Made a four-minute cameo at the outset of the second quarter. Finished the series logging 32 minutes, but the vast majority of those were in mop-up time during the teams four one-sided losses.
Devin Brown: He was in the rotation for the first two games of the series in Denver, but then did not play any key minutes over the final three contests.
Morris Peterson: Only played in the fourth quarters of Game 1 and Game 4 when both games were decided.
Ryan Bowen: Was inactive all series until tonight, when he played the final two minutes.
Melvin Ely: Inactive all series.
POSTGAME QUOTES (courtesy Denver Nuggets)
Byron Scott Hornets Head Coach
I think they are as good as any team in the West. Obviously, the Lakers are the best team in the Western Conference. That would be a great match-up. I think Denver is just as explosive as any offensive team in the Western Conference. They do much better on the defensive end; guys seemed to be committed on that end of the floor. Dallas, the next round for them, is going to be an interesting match-up as well. Right now they are playing with a lot of confidence extremely well on both ends. They are going to be a very worthy opponent. I think the first thing; it would be a little bit different series if we were all healthy. That is the biggest thing. There is not a whole lot different that we could have done. Guys had to play a bunch of minutes, which is tough. Especially when you are playing against a team that is as explosive as they are. That makes the whole situation tough, but the biggest thing is just wishing we were all healthy. We are a better basketball team than we shown in this series. I dont take anything away from Denver. I think they played extremely well. Hats off to them and George Karl I think he has done a fantastic job. Chauncey when he got over here I knew there would be a difference for them.
David West Hornets Forward
We were just uncomfortable with the ball and made too many mistakes and we are dealing with a team that has got weapons they can reach and make you pay. We know they are pretty solid; they are a solid basketball team. I think it came down to it that we lost confidence in our ability to stop them. Even when the game was close we didnt have the confidence. That lack of confidence didnt carry through the whole game on both sides of the ball.
Chris Paul Hornets Guard
First I want to say congratulations to Denver. They did an outstanding job all season. I dont think anyone had trapped the ball screens as good as they did this series. I think with Birdman and Kenyon they are two athletic bigs and they did a great job.
(Advice to Melo) Just not to be satisfied with getting out of the first round. Now it gets more intense. I think Chauncey is the best thing that could have happened to Denver. I think the mindset he has given this team right now is going to fuel them in that next round.
(Do you think JR has become more solid and dependable) I think so. Me and JR talked a lot this past week when they were in New Orleans for those two games. My rookie year we were attached at the hip and we just laughed about how far both of us have come. We were once the back court of this team and I told JR how amazing it is to see him now. He shoots from outside outstanding, but the thing that makes him so dangerous now is he can put the ball on the floor. I think he has built up a lot of trust in his teammates.
George Karl Nuggets Head Coach
The monkey has been pretty heavy on this team at times. I am happy for Melo to get the monkey off our backs. I think hell play better now that the stress has lessened. New Orleans is a pretty banged up team. We are not a 20+ point better team than they are in four games. They are much better than that. I think we are good. I havent been able to say that in a proud way. Dallas is playing good basketball, but I like my team. I thought we were going to be a good team this year; I never thought we could be this good. The organization, led by Stan, has a togetherness to it that we havent had in the past, which has unified everybody. We have gotten to the first step of what we wanted and maybe we can establish ourselves as a final eight team instead of a final 16 team. The three-ball on this court has been pretty powerful. Not just in this playoff series, but in the past couple of weeks. All the games at home have had a fatigue factor. Usually around the end of the third quarter is when we start to crack them.
Chauncey Billups Nuggets Guard
(Taking hometown team to 2nd round) Feels great. I know it has been a long, long time for this team, this organization. For me to just be a part of it feels great to be a hometown kid.
(Is it a different feeling than Detroit because you are from here) It feels a little different because I am on my home turf. It is a little sweeter, but we got a long way to go to accomplish what we did in Detroit.
(Taking care of business) The game played out exactly how we talked about. They were going to come out, fight and scrap to make it a game. A tied game at halftime and we said you know it is playing out exactly how we like it, get aggressive, make a couple runs, and run away from them.
(Second round not end goal) No its not, but it was fun to get out of the first. That monkey was really big on our backs around here. It feels good to get that off our shoulders. We can kind of relax, go out and play. Try to keep making the season special.
Carmelo Anthony Nuggets Forward
(Monkey off back) "Finally, it took me five years to get that gorilla off my back. It was a great feeling. It just want to soak this moment up. Hard work did pay off for us, but we have a lot more work to do. Tonight we do what we got to do, celebrate it. Tomorrow we get back in and get ready for Dallas.
(Coming out of game) George kept asking, kept asking how was my stamina out there but I said George Im good Im going to get this one. He said all right, go get it. If I could have played the whole game I could have.
(Emotions during last minutes) It is finally here. I have been on the other side of the fence in New Orleans situation, I have been there. Over my past five years I have played against the best teams in the Western Conference, I have been down 3-1, back against the wall and I never want to experience that again. I told my team tonight lets just go out there and play harder than them. I think the first half we were trying to win the game all in one possession. Half the time we rallied, told everybody, look, lets take our time, lets execute plays, do what we have been doing and the game will come to us.
(After hitting a three, camera caught you saying this is my house) This is my house. Chauncey moved in with me."