SALT LAKE CITY — Before Friday night's game at EnergySolutions Arena, Denver guard Chauncey Billups discussed rallying from a 3-1 deficit in an NBA playoff series.
He spoke from experience, something acting head coach Adrian Dantley acknowledged the Nuggets needed all of in their quest to become just the ninth team to ever do it.
In 2003, Billups helped the Detroit Pistons climb out of such a hole and eliminate the Orlando Magic in a first-round series. It's a feat that has been accomplished just one time since, when the Phoenix Suns knocked off the Los Angeles Lakers in 2006.
"It's a tough thing to do," Billups said. "That's why it hasn't been done that much."
Denver's bid to do so came to an end with Utah's 112-104 victory in Game 6.
Prior to the setback, Billups said he saw some similarities to Denver's situation and that of the Detroit years earlier. The Nuggets, he explained, learned a thing or two in avoiding elimination with a 116-102 win on Wednesday, forcing the series return to Utah.
"We found some things that really worked against them," Billups said before invoking the "one game at a time" approach. "(It was) similar to the situation we had when I was in this position before. Game 5 we got it going and found a few things."
When pressed for Denver's discovery, Billups pointed to the pick-and-roll. While noting that the Jazz were unbelievable running it on offense, he felt they didn't defend it all that well.
Sometimes a team's biggest strength, he explained, could also be its biggest weakness.
Attempts to exploit the perceived shortcoming, however, weren't all that successful early on. Although Billups assisted on two scores in the first 3:42 of the game — feeding Johan Petro for a dunk and Arron Afflalo on a driving layup — the Nuggets wound up with just three assists in the first quarter as the Jazz built a lead as large as 10 points. It swelled to 15 in the second quarter before seldom-used reserve Joey Graham (18 points in the period) led a resurgence that closed the gap to 56-54 by halftime.
The momentum shift continued after the intermission. Denver built an eight-point lead in the third quarter. Even though they faltered down the stretch, the Nuggets put up a fight in Game 6 — just as Billups predicted.
"We're not just going to walk away and say 'All right, you got us.' We're not going to do that," he said. "You're going to have to knock us out."1 comment on this story
Denver guard J.R. Smith said the slow start ultimately doomed the Nuggets.
"We gave up too many points early and we just dug ourselves in a hole," Smith noted before summing up the series. "It was tough. They stole one at home from us and they came out here and took care of business. They put us really in a dogfight from the beginning. We got too relaxed and they took advantage."
The loss ended a string of seven consecutive trips to the conference finals or greater for Billups. He was NBA Finals MVP in 2004.