DENVER (AP)—Close to being benched for the first time in his life, Carmelo Anthony came through with the kind of game that could jump start him and his team.
Anthony broke out of his early season slump with 34 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four steals, helping the Denver Nuggets end a three-game losing streak with a 117-109 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night.
“I needed this night,” Anthony said. “As badly as I was shooting, I needed this one. It was good for me and it was good for my team.”
Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik considered having Anthony come off the bench against the Pistons after last year’s rookie sensation struggled through the first five games. Anthony ended up starting, but he clearly got the message.
With an extra spring in his step from the start, Anthony was far more aggressive than he had been to start the season, going hard to the basket, bulling in for rebounds and hounding the ball on defense.
He scored on a layup with a hard drive for the game’s first points, then got out on the break for a dunk. Anthony later scored on another fast break dunk, hanging on the rim for extra emphasis, and closed out the quarter with a bullet pass to Kenyon Martin for a dunk.
Anthony had 16 points by halftime without having a play called for him and kept it going in the second half, scoring 11 points in the third quarter as Denver built an 88-73 lead. He finished 11-for-20—making all three 3-point attempts—after shooting 31 percent over the first five games.
And after booing him several times the past few games, the fans were clearly back on Anthony’s side, giving him a standing ovation after he fouled out with 25 seconds left.
“Carmelo played with a vengeance,” Bzdelik said.
But it wasn’t just Anthony.
Stagnant and stingy to open the season with four double-digit losses in five games, the Nuggets played by far their best game despite losing center Marcus Camby to a hamstring strain late in the second quarter.
Earl Boykins had a career-high 32 points to become the smallest player in league history to eclipse 30 points, doing most of his damage after dislocating his middle finger and putting back in place himself in the first quarter.
Andre Miller added 14 points and six assists, Rodney White hit key shots down the stretch and Denver shot 50 percent—7-for-11 from long range—to end a seven-game losing streak against the defending champions.
“It was a much-needed win for our basketball team,” Bzdelik said. “The way we won is the way we have to play, start to finish: scrappy, intense, up and down.”
The Nuggets still almost found a way to lose it.
After leading by 15 at the end of the third quarter, Denver started getting sloppy to let the Pistons back in it.
But that proved to be the Pistons’ last gasp. White followed with a 3-pointer, Boykins hit a jumper and Anthony added two free throws after the 5-foot-5 Boykins sneaked in for an offensive rebound, putting the Nuggets up 109-101 with 1:12 left.
“We came out and we weren’t ready to play, we gave them life and we couldn’t catch up,” interim Pistons coach Gar Heard said. “It wasn’t because we planned it that way. We just tried to get our guys to play and for some reason we just couldn’t pick it up tonight.”
Detroit opened the season 3-1 despite not playing all that well, but the Pistons couldn’t keep it up against the peppy Nuggets.
Richard Hamilton had 25 points, but missed two key free throws in the final minute. Carlos Delfino added 17 points and the Pistons shot 57 percent, but it wasn’t enough to overcome 23 turnovers and the absence of Ben Wallace. The two-time NBA defensive player of the year left the team after his brother died of brain cancer on Monday.
“We weren’t very disciplined out there,” said Detroit’s Chauncey Billups, who had 16 points before sitting out the fourth quarter with ice taped to his ankle. “Anytime you are missing Ben, it is different. Having the confidence that he is there is big, but even with all that this is a game that we have to win and that we feel we should win.”
Detroit’s Derrick Coleman had three points in 16 minutes in his first game this season. Billups had five assists, giving him 2,004 for his career. … Martin was ejected with 41 seconds left after getting a technical foul for elbowing Detroit’s Darvin Ham. He also received a technical for arguing a call in the first half. … Spud Webb had been the shortest player to score 30 points. The 5-foot-7 guard did it four times.