DENVER — Carmelo Anthony didn't believe the Utah Jazz could get into his head and under his skin anymore, and neither did acting Denver Nuggets coach Adrian Dantley.
Both were wrong.
Anthony managed 32 points in Game 2 of their Western Conference playoff series but he drew four offensive fouls and was overly aggressive in the final minute, when he fouled out after hacking C.J. Miles at midcourt.
"I was surprised he did that," said Miles, who didn't anticipate Anthony being so aggressive with the Nuggets trailing by a single point with less than 30 seconds left.
Their strategy successful, the Jazz were glad Anthony wasn't on the court in the closing seconds with a chance to salvage the win. He watched dejectedly from the bench as the Jazz wrapped up their 114-111 victory to even the series at a game each heading back to Salt Lake City for Game 3 Friday night.
On Tuesday, Anthony suggested it will be harder to get under his skin again even if the Jazz are still up in his face.
"We are composed now after watching film," Anthony said. "We saw how close we were of winning that game, seeing us being up three points with two minutes to go and some things didn't go our way toward the end. Our confidence hasn't gone anywhere. We are upbeat and we believe we can go into Utah and win some games."
Anthony and his teammates seemed as bothered by the officials as they were the Jazz, committing 37 fouls, including 26 by the starting five, and constantly harping at the referees for their calls and non-calls.
"I tried to ask the officials more questions of why and what's happening and what am I doing. Sometimes that don't work," Anthony said. "Maybe the next game I'll just be quiet. Don't even ask no question."
Anthony suggested this year's team is paying the price for last year's physical squad that drew the nickname "Thuggets" while manhandling the New Orleans Hornets and Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs behind the pesky play of Dahntay Jones, now with the Pacers.
"I think everybody looked at that film. The refs looked at that film and saw that's what got us over the hump last year, being physical," Anthony said.
After allowing him 42 points in the opener, when their intention was to not put Anthony on the foul line, the Jazz decided to get more physical with the All-Star forward, and it worked.
"I think we tried to get to him a little bit earlier," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "In the game before we let everybody go where they wanted to go. Sometimes you get tired of taking a butt kicking. You have to step up and fight back a little."
Not only did Anthony have to work harder for his points — he was 9-for-25 from the floor — but his angles were much more complicated as Miles and Wesley Matthews, filling in for Andrei Kirilenko (calf), heeded the advice of Jazz broadcaster Matt Harpring, who used to get under 'Melo's skin early in the Denver star's career.
It was something Dantley had openly doubted the duo could do, when he noted before tip-off that Miles and Matthews weren't Andrei Kirilenko or Harpring. Not as big, not as strong, not as experienced.
Before the game, Anthony also shrugged off the notion of Harpring tutoring the young Jazz forwards on how to get him flustered, noting: "That's what he used to try to do. That was my younger days. I was 19 to 20. I'm older now. I'm done with that."
Sure enough, Matthews, a rookie, and Miles corralled 'Melo.
"They did great," Carlos Boozer said. "They set the tone by being more physical with him. They did a good job of attacking him and making him work a little more on defense. We did a great job of helping. We got him in foul trouble, a couple of charges. Him not being in there the last (25.4 seconds) was huge for us."
Anthony wasn't the only one who was flustered.
Kenyon Martin managed just three rebounds, only one off the offensive glass, and acknowledged Tuesday, "I was on the edge last night."
Chauncey Billups, a 90 percent free-throw shooter, missed a foul shot in the final minute, when he also charged into Kyle Korver with 31 seconds left and missed a hurried 3-pointer to tie it in the closing seconds.
Both Billups and Martin finished with five fouls.
"We'll take all those," Jazz floor leader Deron Williams said. "All those help us out. We talked about getting under their skin a little bit. We know they're kind of an intimidating team. We wanted to be physical from the beginning."
So now what?
"We counter that by being physical, just as physical, just as aggressive," Billups said.
Anthony said the Nuggets aren't flummoxed by losing the homecourt edge in the series, either, and suggested they'll figure out a way to counter-punch and return the favor to the Jazz.
"We never thought it would be easy," Anthony said. "We are in a dogfight right now."