DENVER — Six players for the Denver Nuggets played their roles to perfection on Wednesday night, but it took just two to deliver the knockout punch against the Thunder.
Chauncey Billups and Linas Kleiza took turns toying with Oklahoma City in the second half and led the Nuggets to a 122-112 win in front of 16,536 inside the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets got a team-high 31 points from Carmelo Anthony; a dominant 23-point, 10-rebound double-double from Nene Hilario; seven blocks from Chris Andersen; and 14 points off the bench from J.R. Smith. But each time Oklahoma City made a push in the final 24 minutes, it was Billups or Kleiza who silenced the Thunder. Billups erupted in the third quarter, scoring 16 of his 18 points and recording three of his nine assists in the period and snatching away any thoughts the Thunder had of an upset. After Russell Westbrook made a 12-foot jumper to give Oklahoma City a 77-76 lead with 2:56 remaining in the third period, Billups put the Nuggets on his back. He scored all of Denver’s points during an 11-2 run that put the home team ahead 87-79 with 40.6 seconds remaining in the quarter. "That seems like Chauncey’s pattern,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "He’s a very intelligent point guard. He was feeling the game out in the first half, and in the second half he took it upon himself to get more involved offensively.” Kleiza then used the fourth quarter to pick up where Billups left off in the third, making sure the work of his point guard didn’t come undone.