Chauncey Billups has enjoyed decades of success playing basketball in Colorado. A three-time Mr. Colorado in high school and a college star in Boulder, Billups was also a Denver Nugget on two separate occasions, leading the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals in 2009. When he was traded to the New York Knicks last season as part of the Carmelo Anthony deal, Billups was saddened to leave his home town, all the more so because he was just a pawn in that blockbuster deal. When Billups was then waived by the Knicks in December under the league's amnesty rules, it was yet another blow to his pride, and he briefly considered retiring. The Los Angeles Clippers, who claimed him off of amnesty waivers, are glad he didn't.
Billups scored a season-high 32 points Sunday night in his return to the Mile High City to help lead the Clippers to a thrilling 109-105 victory. In the final three minutes, he made a three-pointer (his sixth of the game) to tie the score at 99, and seconds later converted a traditional three-point play to give the Clippers a 102-99 lead. Then with 18 seconds left and the Clippers clinging to a two point lead, he drew a charge from Nene to seal the win. The Denver crowd, so used to seeing Billups' clutch play work in their favor, could only moan in disbelief.
The Clippers as a team made a season-high 14 three-pointers on the game and they needed every one of them. The Denver defense paid special attention to Blake Griffin, and held him to a subpar 17 points on 7 for 16 shooting. (Griffin managed to contribute in other ways as well, with 13 rebounds and a career-high four blocked shots.) With so much attention focused on Griffin in the paint, the Clippers were able to find some open looks on the perimeter. They finished the game 14 for 30 on three-pointers. Chris Paul was more aggressive on offense than he has been since returning from injury, scoring 25 points on 9 for 19 shooting, and contributing three of those crucial three-pointers.
As they have all season, the Nuggets used a balanced effort on offense, led by Nene (18 points), Danilo Gallinari (17), and Andre Miller and Al Harrington (16 each). Denver is one of the deepest teams in the league, and in some ways this game became a question of whether the Nugget reserves could build a lead big enough to hold off the Clipper starters. Whenever Paul and/or Griffin went to the bench, Denver would immediately go on a run -- but the Clippers would come storming back when their stars returned. A 12-1 Denver run spanning the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth (and occurring while Griffin and Paul were resting) gave Denver their biggest lead of the game at 10 points. But with their big guns back on the floor, the Clippers immediately went on a 10-0 run of their own to tie the game again. It remained tight the rest of the way, setting up Billups' heroics.
This was a crucial road win for the Clippers, who had previously won only a single game away from home. The win boosts L.A.'s overall record to 11-6, while Denver drops to 14-6, 7-3 at home.