DENVER — Chauncey Billups settled down his teammates, then stepped up his game.
Billups scored 36 points and made a career-best eight three-pointers in
leading Denver to a 113-84 rout of the New Orleans Hornets, the
second-biggest blowout in the Nuggets’ playoff history.
Capitalizing on their first home-court edge in a playoff series in 21
years, the Nuggets nearly bested their previous biggest margin of
victory, a 141-111 wallop of San Antonio back in 1985.
Billups sank four of his threes in the third quarter, when the Nuggets
began to turn a tight game into a laughter. At one point, they led by
Denver used a 21-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to build
a 95-69 cushion, a run that was highlighted by Billups’ seventh and
Billups was 8-for-9 from beyond the arc, and the best long-range
performance of Billups’ career helped negate all-star point guard Chris
Paul’s big game.
The all-star had 21 points and 11 assists but also an abundance of
angst as the Nuggets dominated the boards, set the tempo and ran away
with it in the second half.
Before tip-off, Hornets coach Byron Scott characterized the key matchup
in this series as that of “an old warrior in Chauncey against this
young thoroughbred that really wants to get up and down the floor.’’
Chalk up Round 1 to the grizzled veteran. The Nuggets host the Hornets for Game 2 on Wednesday night.
Billups’ arrival in the Allen Iverson trade a week into the season
transformed the Nuggets from an afterthought into the Western
Conference’s No. 2 seed. He took all their immense individual talents
and blended them into a cohesive unit that looks primed to finally make
some noise in the playoffs.
The Nuggets are one of four teams making their sixth straight
post-season appearance, joining Dallas, San Antonio and Detroit. But
while the Nuggets are just 5-20 in the post-season during that stretch,
each of the other three have reached the NBA Finals.
Both teams started out shaky as everyone on the floor seemingly had
butterflies — save for Billups, who wasn’t fazed a bit by the
post-season atmosphere. After all, he’s been to six straight conference
finals with the Pistons and won the NBA title and finals MVP trophy in
Billups, who averaged 17.7 points in the regular season sank four
three-pointers and scored 16 points in the first quarter until his
teammates settled down and took a 55-47 lead into the locker-room at