Billups’ foul put Smith on the line with 6.5 seconds left and a chance to tie the game, but Smith missed two of three foul shots, allowing the Detroit Pistons to escape with a 98-93 win over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.
“I feel awful,” said Smith, a 76-percent free-throw shooter. “I just missed.”
Billups, a Denver native, beat Boston earlier this year by drawing a last-second foul and sinking two free throws, but Smith turned the tables on him Monday. With Detroit leading 95-92, Smith dribbled at the top of the key, got Billups off-balance and drew a foul on a 3-point attempt.
“He made a good play. He got me off-balance with the crossover,” said Billups, who scored 20 points. “I couldn’t argue or nothing. The only thing I was thinking was, ‘OK, it’s 6.5 seconds, we’re going to get it in and I’m going to make up for it.’ He missed the shots, so it was great.”
Smith made the first free throw, missed the second and intentionally missed the third, but the Nuggets couldn’t get the rebound. Billups, a former Nugget who was playing in front of many family members, hit three foul shots to seal the Pistons’ third straight win.
“After I got traded, I wanted to win every time,” he said. “I still want to win, but it’s just one game in a road trip. I do feel good about winning and playing good with so much of my family here.”
The Nuggets, playing without head coach George Karl, lost their third straight. Assistant coach Adrian Dantley led the team because Karl missed the game with the flu.
“Of course it was different,” guard Allen Iverson, who had a game-high 28 points, said of Karl’s absence.” He’s the captain of our ship.”
Despite not having Karl, the Nuggets had a chance to win. They led 78-77 with 8:17 left, but that’s when Richard Hamilton got aggressive. Hamilton scored six of his 20 points in a little more than a minute to give the Pistons the lead for good.
“We knew that we had to dig deep and if we made a couple of plays, good things would happen,” Hamilton said. “Either team. Whoever made a quick run would win the game because the game was at a standstill.”
The Nuggets cut the lead to 86-85 on a Smith 3-pointer with 3:43 left, but Billups and Antonio McDyess—another former Nugget who had 16 points and 13 rebounds—hit jumpers, and Billups hit a step-back 3-pointer over Marcus Camby with 1:50 left to push the lead to 93-86.
“That’s why he’s Mr. Big Shot,” Detroit head coach Flip Saunders said.
The Nuggets were trying to recover from blowing a big lead at Milwaukee on Saturday night, but couldn’t finish off Detroit.
“We were in it,” Dantley said. “We missed some easy shots down the stretch. Credit the Pistons. We missed the critical shots and Chauncey made the key shots.”
The Pistons started their four-game Western Conference road trip with wins over two of the top scoring teams in the NBA. They beat Phoenix, ranked No. 2, on Sunday, and squeaked by the Nuggets, No. 4 in scoring, Monday.
“This one was tougher because they came off two tough losses and we knew they were going to come out fighting and hungry,” said Tayshaun Prince, who matched Hamilton and Billups with 20 points. “Defensively, we’ve been doing a good job of changing up our defense to give teams different looks.”
Dantley won the only other NBA game in which he served as a head coach, 111-105 at the Los Angeles Lakers on April 3, 2007. … Dantley played for the Pistons from 1986-89. He was traded to Dallas during the 1988-89 season, the year the Pistons won their first championship. … Carmelo Anthony, who had 23 points, moved into fifth place on Denver’s career scoring list. … Detroit is 9-2 in February and is guaranteed a winning month. The Pistons haven’t had a losing month since February 2004, when they were 6-8. … Karl has missed six games since becoming the Nuggets’ head coach in 2005. He missed four games because of suspensions two years ago.