NBA: Anthony gets the help he wanted in Nuggets’ win over Jazz
By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Sports Writer
DENVER — Carmelo Anthony got the help he was begging for, J.R. Smith found his long-range touch and the Denver Nuggets avoided elimination with a 116-102 victory over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.
The Nuggets, trying to become the first team in four years to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the playoffs, sent the series back to Salt Lake City for Game 6 on Friday night despite losing center Nene to a sprained left knee in the first half.
Anthony had 26 points and 11 rebounds, Smith made four big 3-pointers among his 17 points, and Chauncey Billups had 21 points for the Nuggets.
Denver won a game in which it was facing elimination for the first time since the 1994 Western Conference semifinals against Utah. The Nuggets had lost eight straight elimination games, six since Anthony joined the team in 2003.
After infighting and insults dominated their locker room in the aftermath of their two losses at Salt Lake City, the Nuggets were a much more cohesive group even in the face of another outstanding performance by Utah's Deron Williams, who declared after shootaround that he was the best point guard in the NBA right now.
The Nuggets won't disagree.
After watching him average 27.6 points and 12.0 rebounds over the first four games of the series, the Nuggets put Billups on Williams from the start instead of Aaron Afflalo.
Williams said nothing would change no matter who was guarding him, and he was right, getting 34 points and 10 assists before fouling out in the final minute.
Carlos Boozer had 25 points and 16 boards for Utah. But backup big man Kyrylo Fesenko, who had played so well in the absence of Andrei Kirilenko (calf) and Mehmet Okur (Achilles' tendon) for the last three games, all Utah wins, didn't do so well Wednesday. He finished with three points and six rebounds in 20 minutes.
The Nuggets led 86-81 after three quarters before pouring it on like they did in Game 1, a 126-113 win.
The Nuggets have been helpless to curb Williams, who is the first player since Magic Johnson 20 years ago to register at least 20 points and 10 assists in each of the first four games of a playoff series.
So, the Nuggets turned to Billups, who has 138 games of playoff experience and was on one of the eight teams that overcame 3-1 playoff deficits (Detroit over Orlando in 2003).
Acting coach Adrian Dantley acknowledged the potential pitfalls to this strategy, saying Billups had to be careful not to foul Williams in transition or during his noteworthy coast-to-coast dashes.
He also put Ty Lawson on Williams, and although Lawson brought superior speed to the position, his helter-skelter play also produced some turnovers and poor possessions for Denver.
Still, the Nuggets were finally able to capitalize once again on their athleticism and quickness, something that had been stifled since the series opener, in large part because of the many whistles that forced them to keep taking the ball out of bounds.
Williams especially backed up his proclamations about being the top point guard in the NBA in the closing minutes of the first half when the Nuggets looked like they were about to take control early.
His two 3-pointers and two free throws highlighted a 12-4 run that sent the Jazz into the locker room with a 52-50 lead.
Nene sprained his left knee with 5 minutes left in the first half. He was working under the basket when Boozer's left leg slammed into his left knee. He stayed down for a few minutes, then limped to the locker room, leaning on trainer Jim Gillen.
Nene was having another quiet game, with two points and one rebound but four assists when he went out. The Nuggets said he would be re-evaluated Thursday.
Johan Petro chipped in four points and six boards with Nene out.
On Tuesday, Anthony cleared the air with his teammates, suggesting he didn't mean to point fingers when declaring after Game 4 that he needed some help in trying to beat Utah. Smith, who had tweeted about the team was selfish in Game 4, went back to benign bursts such as "cant stop thinking bout this game coming up!"
NOTES: Kirilenko shot at Utah's shootaround and said his strained left calf is feeling better. However, he wouldn't venture a guess as to when he could return to action, saying he has yet to run up and down the court 5-on-5 with his teammates. ... Nuggets F Chris Andersen had 11 points in the first four games of the series and 10 on Wednesday night.