Nuggets charge back
Billups, Smith beat down Lakers
DENVER - The Denver Nuggets are so much more than just Carmelo Anthony.
A dominating effort on the boards and a great performance by the bench helped the Nuggets overcome a below-par effort from an ailing Anthony last night, when they raced past the Los Angeles Lakers, 120-101, evening the Western Conference finals at two games apiece.
They did it with their star hobbled by a sprained ankle and slowed by a stomach virus that had him hugging the commode before tip-off and getting IVs at halftime.
"Even before I twisted my ankle, with my stomach, I didn't have my legs early in the game," Anthony said. "I felt like I didn't have any energy. Those IVs were a must. They helped a little bit. I'll be OK for [tomorrow]."
Anthony finished with 15 hard-earned points on 3-of-16 shooting, but it hardly mattered because, unlike in Game 3 when his shot also wasn't falling, his teammates came to the rescue.
Six of them scored in double figures, led by Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith with 24 apiece.
"It was important for everyone to step up," Anthony said. "We had a bunch of guys step up today. I know the past two, three games our bench hasn't been as productive as they have been in the playoffs, but tonight those guys stepped up. J.R. stepped up big, Linas Kleiza came in and hit some big shots; he was just phenomenal out there."
Kenyon Martin and Nené each had a double-double as the Nuggets posted their eighth blowout of the postseason but first against Los Angeles following three games that came down to the final seconds.
"They whooped us, period," said Kobe Bryant, who scored 34 points. "They whooped us on the glass. They whooped us to loose balls."
They whooped them in every which way as Denver dominated the glass, the paint and the stripe, outrebounding, outmuscling and outhustling the tired Lakers, whose fatigue after their grueling seven-game series with Houston and the quick turnaround to Denver is really starting to show.
"But that's not a very good excuse," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
The Nuggets beat the Lakers on the glass by 18, outscored them in the paint by 18, beat them on the fast break by 10 and outscored their bench, 42-24.
"It just shows we have heart and can play with a man down," Smith said. "We did a lot this year and kept it up."
So, the Nuggets didn't need to worry about a botched inbounds pass in the closing seconds like the ones that cost them wins in Games 1 and 3.
"I had forgotten about that," Nuggets coach George Karl cracked.
The series shifts to Los Angeles for Game 5 tomorrow night, and the only thing that put a smile on Jackson's face on this night was the memory of the Lakers' win 48 hours earlier.
"What we've done is we've won a road game and brought the home-court advantage back to L.A.," Jackson said.
Martin had 13 points and 15 boards, Nené pitched in 14 points and 13 rebounds, and Chris "Birdman" Andersen added 14 rebounds for the Nuggets.
Jackson complained about Dahntay Jones's trip of Bryant in the third quarter, calling it unsportsmanlike.
"I just fell on my face for no reason," Bryant deadpanned. "I'm a klutz."
Was Jones playing him dirty?
"Good defense," Bryant said.
Jackson also griped about Denver's lopsided 49-35 advantage in free throws, a reversal of Game 3's 45-31 Lakers advantage.
"Basketball is a game where the aggressor gets the advantage. And tonight we didn't know what a foul was and what wasn't a foul," Jackson complained. "Start of the game, we got guys knocked around going to the basket, they said, 'We're going to let those things go.' By the end of the ballgame little fouls were being called all over the place."
Anthony missed his first 10 shots. Making matters worse, he turned his right ankle in the first half.
Billups said he likes Denver's chances in Los Angeles, where the Nuggets won Game 2.
"I'm sure the world wants to see Cleveland and the Lakers" in the NBA finals, he said. "You've got the best two players in the world, a chance to see them play in a seven-game series. I don't want to see it. Man, I don't want to see it. And I'm trying my best not to make that happen."