“I think tonight we responded as a unit to the challenge at hand,” said Anthony, who had complained after the Nuggets’ loss Sunday night that he couldn’t beat the Jazz by himself, comments he later clarified to show he meant everybody, including himself, had to do more.
And they did.
J.R. Smith(notes) found his long-range touch. Chris Andersen(notes) and Johan Petro(notes) filled in admirably when center Nene went out with a potentially serious knee injury in the first half. Kenyon Martin’s(notes) 18 points were the most he’s scored in the playoffs since 2005. Aaron Afflalo was perfect from the floor, and reserve Ty Lawson(notes) provided a spark with his speed.
“Everybody stepped up tonight and did their part,” Anthony said. “With Nene going down early, ‘Frenchie’ came in and stepped up, ‘Bird’ played the way he is supposed to be playing. Everybody played their role tonight. That’s how we won.”
The Nuggets, trying to become the first team in four years to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the playoffs, sent the series back to Salt Lake City for Game 6 on Friday night despite losing Nene to a sprained left knee.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game up there, tough arena, Utah fans are pretty tough,” Nuggets acting coach Adrian Dantley said. “But we’re glad we did what we did tonight.”
Anthony had 26 points and 11 rebounds, Chauncey Billups(notes) had 21 points, and Smith made four big 3-pointers among his 17 points for Denver, which won a game in which it was facing elimination for the first time since Game 6 of the 1994 Western Conference semifinals against Utah.
The Nuggets had lost eight straight elimination games, six since Anthony joined the team in 2003.
After infighting and insults dominated their locker room in the aftermath of their two losses at Salt Lake City, the Nuggets were a much more cohesive group even in the face of another outstanding performance by Utah’s Deron Williams(notes), who declared after shootaround that he was the best point guard in the NBA right now.
The Nuggets won’t disagree.
After watching him average 27.6 points and 12.0 assists over the first four games of the series, the Nuggets put Billups on Williams from the start instead of Afflalo.
Williams said nothing would change no matter who was guarding him, and he was right, getting 34 points and 10 assists before fouling out in the final minute. He became the first player in NBA history to register 20 or more points and double-digit assists in five games to begin a playoff series.
“We played good defense on him,” Dantley insisted, “but he’s just a great basketball player.”
Carlos Boozer(notes) had 25 points and 16 boards for Utah. But backup big man Kyrylo Fesenko(notes), who had played so well in the absence of Andrei Kirilenko(notes) (calf) and Mehmet Okur(notes) (Achilles’ tendon) for the last three games, all Utah wins, finished with three points and six rebounds Wednesday night.
The Nuggets were finally able to capitalize once again on their athleticism and quickness.
“They were a lot more alive, they went after the ball a little harder than we did,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “The players off the bench gave them a big lift. Their bench people killed us.”
Williams backed up his proclamations about being the top point guard in the NBA in the closing minutes of the first half when the Nuggets looked like they were about to take control early.
His two 3-pointers and two free throws highlighted a 12-4 run that sent the Jazz into the locker room with a 52-50 lead.
But he said the Jazz were outplayed and outhustled in the first few minutes of the second half and he put the blame on his shoulders for letting his team lose focus.
Nene was hurt with 5 minutes left in the first half. He was working under the basket when Boozer’s left leg slammed into his left knee.
“I don’t know how severe his injury is, but if he doesn’t play we just have to play without him,” Dantley said. “Utah, they went without two players. We just have to play without him.”
With Nene out, Andersen scored 10 points and grabbed seven boards and Petro chipped in four points and six boards.
“When he went out they picked themselves up,” Sloan said. “They seemed to get a lot stronger.”
Sloan said he wasn’t concerned that the injuries to Kirilenko and Okur were catching up to his short-handed roster.
“I would if they were about 40 years old,” he cracked. “I don’t have anybody that old so they should be in good enough shape to be able to play.”
One thing the Jazz don’t want is to see is the Pepsi Center again in a Game 7.
“It’s very important to get this over with on Friday,” Williams said. “But it’s not going to be easy.”
NOTES: Nene will be re-evaluated Thursday. … Anthony had his second straight double-double after managing just one in 16 playoff games last year.