There's no disputing the importance of Chauncey Billups on the Nuggets -- he revitalized a team many had left for dead after the front office literally gave away Marcus Camby, and his leadership and championship experience helped convince a team of gunslingers to finally accept the challenge of being a respectable defensive team.
That said, after playing a starring role for much of the first-round matchup against the Hornets, it was nice to see Billups take a backseat to Carmelo Anthony, who scored a playoff career-high 34 points, in Wednesday's series-clinching win. Anthony has been the target of undue criticism the last few years for his team's playoff struggles, so the fact that he was able to step up and perform so well when the stakes were at their highest is a nice chance at vindication.
If you recall, the only reason Denver didn't struggle in the playoffs before Anthony arrived was only because Denver didn't play in the playoffs before Anthony arrived.
All this talk after Wednesday's game about Anthony shaking a monkey off his back diminishes the fact that simply getting to the playoffs every year of his career is an accomplishment in itself (a feat fellow '03 draftmates LeBron James or Dwyane Wade couldn't accomplish), at least for a team that missed eight consecutive postseasons until a teenage savior from Syracuse arrived on the scene.
In any case, it's official: the Nuggets are in the second round for the first time since 1994. And while Anthony led the charge in Game 5, Billups remains a steady presence, putting everything in context to the larger goal.
"It's crazy, that monkey is big on everybody's shoulders around here," Billups said after the win. "It's good to get that off, even though I haven't lost in the first round in a long time. Being around here all year, man, it's like everybody's putting all the emphasis on the first round. I shoot higher than that.''
As for the Hornets, it'll be interesting to see what exactly happens this summer. The aborted Tyson Chandler trade at the deadline reveals owner George Shinn's commitment (or lack thereof) in keeping the current core together, which makes you think that any and all of the bits and pieces surrounding Chris Paul are available at the right price.
With only two games on the slate, Anthony's line of 34 points, six boards, four steals and three dimes was easily the most impressive of the night. [Box Score]
Filed under the "I did not see that coming" department was Flip Murray's night: 23 points on 9-15 shooting for the Hawks. [Box Score]
Were I one of the unfortunate listeners actually relying on Hawks radio man Steve Holman to describe the action on the floor last night, I would have had visions of Alonzo Mourning dragging Jeff Van Gundy like a rag doll.
In reality, it was a mildly chippy game with a handful of hard fouls and bad calls. For one, I'm guessing Holman felt sheepish about making such a big deal about Dwyane Wade's flagrant on Mo Evans, which I'm willing to wager will be rescinded by the league -- if you skip ahead to the 2:45 mark here, you'll see that Wade, one of the premier shot-blocking guards in the league, was clearly going for the ball. Regardless of what some over-enthused announcers under the employ of the home team want you to believe, all contact isn't dirty.
(Hat-tip to Larry Brown Sports for the vid)
On the Blockquote
Niall Doherty at Hornets247:
I have a hard time blaming any one person in particular for this mess. Sure, it would help if George Shinn had deeper pockets. It would also be nice if Jeff Bower could undo some of the moves he did/didn't make so we'd have a deeper and more talented roster. It would be great if Byron had more coaching skills, if our players could stay healthy and productive, and if they consistently put forth maximum effort. Also, the economy isn't helping and we're playing the wrong team at the wrong time.Kevin Arnovitz on TrueHoop:
[4th Quarter, 4:16] This is the kind of play where you half-expect the the play-by-play transcription of the game to offer a wiseass description of what transpired, as in: "Josh Smith misses an abominable attempt at a circus dunk that the less charitable might characterize as a metaphor for his young career." Well ahead of the field, Smith approaches the paint with a right handed dribble, brings the ball underneath his left leg as he elevates, switches hands to his left, then rims the dunk, sending the ball springing into the air out to Joe Johnson. This will undoubtedly be immortalized on YouTube, and go down as a cult classic of aerial misadventure.