The Nuggets led the Mavericks by as many as 17 points late in the third quarter, but midway through the fourth the Mavs started to make a run, cutting the deficit all the way down to six. A would-be blowout was suddenly a two-possession game; was this where the Nuggets would fall apart?
Not quite. With the ball in his hands and just two seconds left on the shot clock, Carmelo Anthony nailed a 25-footer that left the Mavericks so disgusted that Antoine Wright drew a tech foul, putting Chauncey Billups on the free throw line to push Denver's lead safely back to double-digits once and for all. From there, Denver cruised to a 124-110 series-clinching victory.
"Yeah, that was a spark," Anthony said after the game. "If I told you I knew it was going in, I'd be lying to you. That was a lucky shot. It went in. I think that shot right there sparked the momentum for us."
Anthony was referring to his shot, but he may as well have been talking about Denver's entire season. Can you remember a more unlikely contender advancing this far in the playoffs?
This was a team more interested in shedding salary than acquiring talent last summer, allowing the Clippers to take their starting center off their hands in exchange for nothing* simply because the Clips had the cap space to make it happen.
* (Well, almost nothing: the Nuggets didn't receive any players or even an extra draft pick in exchange for Marcus Camby; all they acquired was the right to swap draft positions in the second round of the 2010 draft.)
After going the rest of the summer and all the way through training camp without any major moves, the Nuggets finally pulled the trigger on another deal shortly after the start of the season, sending Allen Iverson to Detroit in exchange for hometown hero Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess' soon-to-be-bought-out contract and second-year project Cheikh Samb, who spent the season bouncing between four NBA teams and the D-League before finishing the season unemployed.
It wasn't the cost-cutting move that dumping Camby was -- inheriting the final three years after this season on Billups' contract isn't without some financial risk -- but it was certainly akin to Anthony's last-second heave on Wednesday: a desperate attempt that could have easily backfired but instead cemented the team's success.
ESPN.com's Tom Friend recently did an amazingly comprehensive job telling the story of Billups' unlikely career and his influence on Denver's roster, but if you want to measure his impact in a nutshell, consider that he's making his seventh consecutive appearance in the conference finals, whereas the Nuggets as an organization are making their first since 1985.
(And, as even more proof that his career has come full circle, he did it at the expense of Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who helped Billups start his remarkable streak back when they were both with the Pistons in 2003.)
Earlier this month, Nuggets GM Mark Warkentein was voted by his peers to be the league's top executive, ostensibly for his amazing foresight to shed salary while improving the roster in two fell swoops, but only in hindsight could he have ever imagined those moves would land his team just four wins away from the NBA Finals.
But just because luck put the wheels in motion doesn't mean it's still driving the team -- the Nuggets are as deep and as talented as any of the five contenders left standing.
"It's not over, we're still on the road man," Billups said. "We are moving on to bigger and better things and hopefully we can remain successful."
Chauncey Billups (28 points on 16 shots, 12 assists) and Carmelo Anthony (30 points) were amazing, but Dirk Nowitzki (32 points and 10 boards) was an absolute horse for the Mavericks. He averaged 34.4 points and 11.6 boards in five games, doing all he could to give his team a chance to win.
Those fan-made, homebrew NBA commercials sure pop up quickly, don't they? The NBA: Where "Viral Marketing Never Dies" Happens. Sick alley-oop from J.R. Smith to Kenyon Martin, too.
On the Blockquote
Rick Carlisle, who flew cross-country to attend Chuck Daly's funeral and coach the Mavericks in Game 5 in the same day:
"Missing this [funeral] was not an option,'' Carlisle said.Random Pic of the Day
Missing Game 5 was an option for Mark Cuban, but at least he had a cardboard stand-in.