Billups, Clippers end Nuggets' six-game winning streak
It’s rare that a visiting player has a home-court advantage at Pepsi Center.
Chauncey Billups might be the lone exception.
The Denver native looked perfectly comfortable – probably too comfortable for the Nuggets – on Sunday night, scoring a season-high 32 points to lead the Los Angeles Clippers to a come-from-behind victory over his former team.
Billups, who was swept up in the 13-player trade that sent Carmelo Anthony from Denver to New York last Feb. 22, made six three-pointers and drew a critical offensive foul on Nuggets big man Nene with Los Angeles leading by two and 18.1 seconds remaining.
The Clippers converted 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch to snap Denver’s six-game winning streak and prevent the Nuggets (14-6 overall, 12-4 in January) from setting a team record for most wins in a single month.
Billups, incidentally, was a key member of the Nuggets team that won 12 games in January 2010. He also helped lead Denver to the Western Conference finals in 2009.
“It’s always good to play in front of your family and compete against friends,” Billups said. “That’s always fun. Summertime, you trash talk and stuff like that. Right now, I’m up. The only thing is I have to see them guys in three or four days.”
It will be tough for Thursday’s rematch between the Nuggets and Clippers to match the emotion of Sunday’s game.
The night started with video tribute to Billups and a warm ovation from the sellout crowd at Pepsi Center. He responded with eight points in the game’s first nine minutes.
“That welcome I got was humbling,” Billups said. “It felt really good. I didn’t expect that. I expected a good welcome, but that was better than I expected.”
The Nuggets appeared poised to spoil the homecoming, building a 10-point lead with 10:59 left in the final quarter, but the Clippers pulled even with a 10-0 run over the next 2:20. Neither team led by more than five points the rest of the way.
Billups scored six consecutive points to give Los Angeles a 102-99 lead with 2:37 to play, but back-to-back dunks by Nene put the Nuggets back on top with 47.3 seconds remaining.
Chris Paul converted two free throws and DeAndre Jordan split a pair of foul shots for the Clippers, setting up a pivotal possession for Denver with 23.4 seconds to go.
With the Clippers switching on screens, Billups tried to battle Nene in the post and drew a whistle when the two got tangled up in the post.
“What else could I do?” Nene said. “He was grabbing me.”
Billups tried to suppress a grin when discussing the play.
“They wanted to exploit the mismatch,” he said. “I was just kind of fronting him. As soon as he grabbed me and pushed me, boom, I went down.”
Said Nuggets coach George Karl: “I thought Chauncey was actually trying to foul Nene on purpose. That’s a tough call in that situation.”
Paul made two more free throws to push the lead to four and effectively put the game out of reach. While the call against Nene had an impact, Los Angeles’ season-high 14 three-pointers and ability to get stops in the fourth quarter played a bigger role in the outcome.
The Nuggets also missed the speed and playmaking ability of starting point guard Ty Lawson, who was a late scratch because of continued pain in his sprained left ankle.
“We’ve just got to keep our heads up, regroup, get Ty on the court and go down to Memphis (Tuesday),” Karl said. “It’ll be a fun game when we play (the Clippers) back down in L.A., but we’ve got to take care of (Memphis) before we get there.”
Starting in Lawson’s place, Andre Miller recorded his fourth consecutive double-double (16 points, 10 assists). Nene finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, while Danilo Gallinari added 17 points.
The player of the game, however, was Billups, who received a final ovation from dozens of fans who stuck around after he did an on-court television interview.
“That was beautiful, man,” Billups said. “Everybody knows how I feel about Denver and these fans. That felt good.”
The Clippers return to Denver on April 18.
Don't expect the Nuggets to be so hospitable.