The Nuggets are 4-1 since Billups' arrived after a Nov. 3 trade with the Pistons. And on Friday night, the Nuggets added a statement game to their resume, beating the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics 94-85.
"It's a huge win," said Billups, who scored 18 points and had seven assists. "This kind of atmosphere is one of the best you can play in. These are the kind of games where you learn a lot about your teammates and how mentally tough and strong they are.
"Needless to say, I'm happy with the way this game turned out."
Billups was the NBA Finals MVP in 2003-04 when the Pistons captured the NBA title. In his six years with the team, they played for two championships and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals the other four years.
The Nuggets, who have won only three times in their last 19 trips to Boston, survived an exciting final few minutes. After Boston's Kevin Garnett tied it at 84 with a tomahawk dunk, Kenyon Martin answered with a shot in traffic to make it 86-84.
"Kenyon's play was huge," Billups said. "He played KG just about as good as I've seen him be played."
Coming out of a timeout, Kendrick Perkins lost the ball, and Billups converted a layup and free throw to put the Nuggets up 89-84. Garnett missed a shot on the ensuing trip down the floor, and Anthony hit a 3-pointer to give the Nuggets an eight point cushion, 92-84, with under 2 minutes to play.
"You see the difference in this team with Chauncey the talking, and the activity and him directing on both offense and defense," Garnett said. "But, we had out chance to win the game and we didn't take advantage of that."
The Nuggets opened up an eight-point lead early in the fourth quarter, largely behind the shooting of JR Smith. He scored eight early points in the quarter -- including two 3-pointers -- to give Denver a 78-70 lead. But the Celtics rallied, with 3-pointers by Ray Allen and Eddie House trimming the lead back to three, 82-79. Allen then tied it at 82 with a baseline 3-pointer.
"There was a lot of fight in that game," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "I think any time you play the champions, you have to play with kind of a tiger-like intensity. They had their moments, they had their runs momentum-wise, but I don't think we ever stopped being physical or being aggressive."
The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for the Celtics (8-2). Allen led all scorers with 26 points. Paul Pierce had 19 points and Garnett added 16 for the Celtics, who lost at home for the first time this season.
After a first quarter in which Allen scored 18 points and they jumped out to a 29-23 lead, the Celtics struggled offensively. Boston scored 13 points in the second quarter, a season low, on 5-for-18 shooting. The Nuggets took advantage and used a 19-4 run to take a 48-36 lead, their largest of the half. The Celtics scored the final six points of the quarter to cut the deficit to six, 48-42.
In the third, the Nuggets used an 11-2 run to open up 15-point lead -- their biggest of the game on a turnaround fade away by Billups.
But the Celtics closed out the third quarter on a 21-5 run paced by eight points by Pierce and took their first lead of the second half, 65-64, on a 3-pointer from House.
|Carmelo Anthony's 18 points and 13 boards help Denver snap the C's winning streak. (Getty Images)|
|Denver (5-4) «||23||25||16||30||94|
|DEN:C. Billups 18 Pts
DEN:C. Anthony 13 Reb
DEN:C. Billups 7 Ast
|BOS:R. Allen 26 Pts
BOS:K. Garnett 9 Reb
BOS:R. Rondo 7 Ast
|Players of the Game|
|K. Martin, PF||37||8-16||0-0||4||1||3||16|
|C. Billups, PG||33||6-12||6-6||2||7||5||18|
|C. Anthony, SF||33||8-19||0-0||13||3||3||18|
|D. Jones, SG||13||1-3||0-0||2||1||1||2|
|A. Carter, PG||29||0-4||2-2||3||6||1||2|
|R. Balkman, PF||23||2-3||0-0||7||1||3||4|
|L. Kleiza, SF||19||4-7||1-1||3||0||1||10|
|J. Smith, SG||18||3-6||2-2||2||1||1||10|
|C. Atkins, PG||Did Not Play|
|S. Hunter, PF||Did Not Play|
|C. Andersen, PF||Did Not Play|
|C. Samb, C||Did Not Play|
|S. Weems, SG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|R. Allen, SG||41||9-16||3-3||6||4||3||26|
|P. Pierce, SG||41||4-12||9-10||7||4||2||19|
|K. Garnett, PF||36||7-14||2-2||9||2||1||16|
|K. Perkins, C||33||3-4||0-0||9||2||0||6|
|R. Rondo, PG||30||1-8||0-0||0||7||3||2|
|E. House, SG||19||5-11||0-0||1||2||2||13|
|G. Davis, PF||16||0-2||0-0||0||1||2||0|
|T. Allen, SG||14||0-3||1-2||0||0||2||1|
|L. Powe, PF||10||0-3||1-2||4||0||1||1|
|P. O'Bryant, C||1||0-0||1-2||1||0||0||1|
|G. Pruitt, PG||1||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|S. Cassell, PG||Did Not Play|
|B. Scalabrine, PF||Did Not Play|
|J. Giddens, SG||Did Not Play|
|B. Walker, SG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|