DENVER – The Dallas Mavericks toughened up and clamped down Tuesday night, and it still wasn’t enough to beat the high-flying Denver Nuggets.
Carmelo Anthony led another fourth-quarter blitz by the Nuggets, who overcame Dirk Nowitzki’s 35 points and more hustle and muscle from the Mavericks for a 117-105 victory. The Nuggets are up 2-0 in their best-of-seven series.
Anthony scored 15 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, Nene scored 25, J.R. Smith had 21 and Chauncey Billups 18 for the Nuggets, who won for the 15th straight time at the Pepsi Center, where they haven’t lost since March 11.
The series shifts to Dallas for Game 3 Saturday night, and the Mavericks can only hope they’re going to be as good on their home court as the Nuggets were on theirs.
“It’s kind of shocking we have three days off,” said Nuggets coach George Karl, who would much prefer to keep the momentum going by playing sooner.
The Mavericks are 17-1 at home since the all-star break, but that one loss was to Denver.
The Mavericks now face the daunting task of having to win four of five against the Nuggets, a team they’re 0-6 against this season and one that is playing with so much confidence and efficiency.
“They’ve held serve,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “We go back to Dallas and we’ve got to do the same. We’ve got a few days to regroup and work on some things.”
The Nuggets, whose six post-season wins have come by an average of 24.8 points, broke open a back-and-forth game by starting the fourth quarter on a 16-2 run, sparked by Anthony’s 10 points, to take a 102-85 lead.
“We’re just an explosive team in that way,” Billups said. “That’s just kind of what we do. That’s who we’ve been all year.”
Dallas didn’t score until Brandon Bass’s basket at the 8:36 mark, and then they went another 2 1/2 minutes without another point until two free throws by Nowitzki.
Ever since the playoffs started, Denver has made a habit of using a fourth-quarter spurt to create both separation and doubt in its opponents’ heads.
“I think the second and third quarter, Dallas was the better basketball team today,” Karl said. “But then there’s just a character of our team to get tough in the fourth and for some reason we make a lot of threes in the fourth.”
After getting pushed around in the opener, the Mavericks said they had to stand up to the bullying in Game 2 and they tinkered with their starting lineup, replacing Jose Juan Barea with Antoine Wright.
They wanted to attack the rim more, but Josh Howard’s two sprained ankles sent him to the bench after six scoreless minutes. They still improved the differential in points in the paint while also taking better care of the ball – until their fourth-quarter follies.
After committing 20 turnovers in the opener, they coughed it up 13 times in Game 2, including five times in the final period.
“Well, again turnovers were our undoing early in the fourth,” Carlisle said. “I thought we did a great job hanging in the first half and then the third quarter. Maybe it was a little bit fatigue again. A couple turnovers, it started a run and we didn’t recover from it.”
The Mavericks trimmed an early double-digit deficit to 58-55 at halftime when Jason Kidd hit a three-pointer at the buzzer after Smith put up a three-pointer with too much time left on the shot clock.
Kenyon Martin, who was slapped with a US$25,000 fine for a hard foul on Nowitzki in the opener, was whistled for a double technical when he was grabbed by Ryan Hollins around his waist and tried to wrangle free. The Nuggets, who called the monetary fine overkill, also took umbrage at this whistle.
Nowitzki, whose five free throws in Game 1 drew the ire of Carlisle, went to the line 13 times, making 12 of them.
The Nuggets got the crowd back into it when Billups beat Jason Terry to a loose ball and fed to Smith under the basket for an electrifying dunk that gave Denver a 77-76 lead.
Smith pickpocketed Terry for a breakaway slam and Billups’ three made it 84-78, but the Mavericks cut the deficit to 86-83 heading into the fourth quarter.
Notes: This is the Nuggets’ longest home winning streak since a 19-gamer in 1989. … The Mavericks haven’t won in Denver since Dec. 31, 2006.