Anthony scored a playoff career-high 42 points and Smith’s fourth-quarter flurry of 3-pointers helped the Denver Nuggets beat the injury-riddled Utah Jazz 126-113 on Saturday night in Game 1 of the playoff series.
“We need that,” Anthony said after Smith scored 18 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter. “I know I said that earlier our team’s success falls on me, but J.R.’s a big part of what we do and how far we go. We need him to play the way he played—under control.”
Anthony, whose previous playoff high was 41 points against Dallas in the second round last year, benefited from the absence of Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko(notes), who re-injured his strained left calf in practice Thursday and won’t play in the series.
“He just took that game over,” Carlos Boozer(notes) said. “He hit shots with hands in his face. It seemed like he barely dribbled the ball, had a one-dribble pull-up or just caught it, faced up and shot it. That’s where we miss A.K.’s length.”
“It’s the playoffs,” Anthony said. “Tonight, shots were falling. I was patient, taking advantage of what they were doing. When they played me straight up, I took advantage of that, I made shots. When they double-teamed, I passed the ball, made my teammates better.”
Although Boozer (rib) returned to Utah’s lineup and scored 19 points, the Jazz lost center Mehmet Okur(notes), who aggravated his left Achilles’ tendon injury in the first half, leading Boozer to believe he’ll have to move over to center for Game 2 Monday night.
“I felt something pop,” said Okur, who will undergo an MRI on Sunday.
Miles also missed some time because of nausea after colliding with Chauncey Billups(notes) in the second half. He returned to start the fourth quarter but quickly went to the bench with five fouls. He scored 17 points but none after halftime.
Kenyon Martin(notes) pulled down 12 rebounds in 34 minutes—the most he’s played since missing 18 games because of a balky left knee during the stretch run when the Nuggets fought through lots of adversity, including George Karl’s two-month absence to fight throat cancer.
Assistant Adrian Dantley has run the team in Karl’s absence, and on this night, he certainly didn’t mind Smith’s flurry of fourth-quarter 3-point attempts—something that drew his ire last week when Smith fired up four 3s in the final 2 minutes of a blowout win over Memphis.
Smith sank three straight 3s to break open a 90-90 game and give Denver a 99-93 lead.
“The thing about it, they were good shots,” Billups said. “It wasn’t like he was coming down and having to make a crazy shot or a crazy play. It was in the offense: swing, swing, great shot. … that’s great basketball.”
A fourth 3-pointer hit the front of the iron, but Smith grabbed the long rebound himself and sliced through the lane for a finger-roll bucket that put the Nuggets ahead 101-93.
“It felt good to get on, period,” Smith said. “I couldn’t hit anything. I didn’t have a rhythm. It felt good to start making shots.”
Dantley loved what he saw.
“You get a lot of opinions on J.R., but I’m a J.R. fan,” Dantley said.
Smith and Anthony combined for 30 of Denver’s 38 points in the fourth quarter.
“Melo was great. I could just see it early, the shots that he was hitting weren’t even hitting the rim,” Billups said.
And in the fourth quarter, Smith was also popping the net, giving Dantley, the Hall of Fame forward, a win in his postseason coaching debut.
“I went over to George’s house yesterday. He said, ‘Just go out and have fun.’ That was it,” Dantley said. “No strategy for the team—set a couple of plays, but that was it.”
Karl recently completed his six-week treatment of radiation and chemotherapy and hopes to return to the bench later in the playoffs if the Nuggets can advance.
Sloan said it was strange not to see Karl leaning on the scorer’s table, ranting at the referees or drawing up plays during timeouts.
“It makes you realize basketball’s really not that important,” Sloan said. “… We love basketball, everybody gets excited about it but it really doesn’t matter in the scheme of things. I just wish him well and hope things go well for him.”
NOTES: Dantley suggested that sharing the ball, along with getting Nene more shots, was paramount in the postseason, and his message on the grease board in the locker room was clear: “Regular season 44-7 (with) 20 or more assists.” They managed 29 assists Saturday night, eight by Billups and six more by rookie Ty Lawson(notes). … Smith hadn’t hit four 3s since March 13 against Memphis, when he had seven. Anthony hadn’t scored this many points since March 15 against Houston, when he had 45.