Prince hit a running jumper with 20 seconds left, Afflalo hit six straight free throws after that, and the Detroit Pistons overcame 30 points by Chauncey Billups to beat the Nuggets 93-90 on Friday night in Allen Iverson’s return to the Mile High city.
Iverson, making his first appearance in Denver since being traded to Detroit for Billups, Antonio McDyess and Cheikh Samb on Nov. 3, led the Pistons with 23 points—20 in the second half. He said his return to Denver was special.
“It was emotional being that I had so many memories here. I felt like this was going to be the place that I would finish my career,” he said. “I felt good about my chances of winning my championship here.
“I felt like I was at home. It didn’t feel like it was a road game.”
Billups, who spent six years in Detroit and was the 2004 NBA finals MVP when he led the Pistons to the title, enjoyed facing his old team.
“It’s fun when you get to hook up with your buddies and compete,” he said. “At some point of the game you try to win.”
The Nuggets were poised for their sixth straight victory when they led 84-78 with 3:48 left, but the Pistons rallied. They got within one on two free throws by Afflalo with 2:53 left, and after Billups’ layup, Iverson fed Jason Maxiell for a dunk with 1:48 left to cut the lead to 86-85.
The teams traded missed shots before Prince hit a running 9-footer with 20 seconds left to give Detroit its first lead of the game.
“I knew if I just got the ball off some movement I would get a good look because they were doubling,” Prince said.
On the ensuing possession, McDyess, who was bought out by the Nuggets after the trade, stripped J.R. Smith with 10.5 seconds left.
Smith was fouled by Iverson and had a chance to tie the game with three free throws with 5.5 seconds left, but he missed the first one before hitting the next two.
“I told my teammates that once we got to Utah, they would probably have to board up my windows and take all sheets out of my room because I would have killed myself if we had lost the game seeing I gave J.R. those three shots like that,” Iverson said.
Billups missed a 31-footer at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime.
“They all know that you’re trying to get that shot off,” Billups said. “So, you really aren’t going to get a great look in that amount of time. But I still got a decent one.”
Iverson struggled with his shot for most of the game. He was 2-for-12 through the first three quarters but had 13 points on the strength of 8-for-9 shooting from the foul line.
He heated up in the final 12 minutes, shooting 4-for-6 and scoring 10 points. He attacked the Denver defense, drawing fouls and hitting layups to keep the Pistons close.
“For three-fourths of his minutes we did our job against him,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “They snuck up on us and stole a game.”
Iverson, who spent 1 1/2 seasons with Denver after the Nuggets acquired him from Philadelphia on Dec. 19, 2006, got a standing ovation from a sold-out Pepsi Center crowd during pregame introductions.
“It was priceless,” Iverson said. “I spent time here and I got familiar with the fans.”
Billups hurt Detroit for three quarters before the Pistons’ defense, led by Prince, held him to four points in the fourth.
“We had to give him a different look because he was terrorizing us throughout the game,” Prince said. “There’s nobody else on the court that knows Chauncey’s game like me.”
The Pistons shot 37 percent in the first half but stayed within range heading into the third quarter. Denver led by 13 after Billups hit three free throws early in the second half, but Detroit climbed back, getting within 59-56 with 3:14 left in the period.
The Nuggets stretched the lead to 67-61 entering the fourth.
Billups, who has led the Nuggets to a 22-9 record since the trade, was aggressive early against his former team. In the first period, Billups scored nine points on 4-for-6 shooting and had two assists as Denver grabbed a 25-17 lead.
He scored 12 points in the second quarter to give the Nuggets a 48-38 edge at the half.
“We allowed Billups to have a big half, we missed a ton of free throws, Tay was 2-for-7 and Iverson was 1-for-8,” Detroit coach Michael Curry said. “You add all that in and you’re just down 10, we felt good going into the second half.”
Detroit G Richard Hamilton (groin) missed his seventh straight game. Curry said Hamilton will sit out Saturday at Utah but should be ready for Tuesday’s game against Charlotte. … Pistons F/C Rasheed Wallace (foot) missed his fourth straight game. … Nuggets C Johan Petro, acquired from Oklahoma City on Wednesday, was inactive Friday.