I spent all afternoon maneuvering around Los Angeles with my rain jacket zipped high and umbrella wide open. It never occurred to me to bring the 'brella with me to my seat in press row. Huge mistake, because Friday night at Staples, the Denver Nuggets rained down three-pointers on the Lakers like Tlaloc, the Aztec water diety. An angry, vengeful Tlaloc. So much rain, the USC band floated out of the upper deck two-by-two while courtside patrons were presented plastic sheeting as if they were sitting front row at a Gallagher show. It was the only way to stay dry.Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
A Chauncey Billups 3-pointer. Something he did to the Lakers nine times Friday night. Nine times? Nine. Times.
Because man alive, the Nuggets shot the lights out in their 126-113 win. 57.1% overall, and an astonishing 15-22 (68.2%) from beyond the arc.
None of the 15 were more important than four coming in the last four minutes of the third quarter. With the Lakers up by eight, Chauncey Billups came down the floor and, off a pass from J.R. Smith, ripped a three from 27 feet at 3:47. 43 seconds later, Billups again nailed a triple. And, just for good measure, at the 2:10 mark Billups pulled up at the top of the arc in front of a far too passive Sasha Vujacic and again found cord. Eight points up to one point down in 97 seconds. It was like a video game.
He wasn't done, either.
After Lamar Odom briefly put the Lakers back up, getting to the line and sinking a pair of freebies, Billups once again stepped up, this time losing Ron Artest over a screen and firing before the help arrived. From there, Denver never again trailed. By the time Ty Lawson banked- yes, even the shots off glass found a home- yet another bomb I can only imagine Lakers broadcaster Spero Dedes was cursing the English language for not providing enough euphemisms for three-pointers. After all, the Nuggets had six in the quarter and 12 through 36 minutes.
Denver's hot shooting didn't stop in the fourth quarter. Sure, they "cooled" from downtown, hitting a mere three of their seven tries. But they were 10-17 everywhere else. This time it was Smith who dominated, hitting seven of 10.
The Lakers had played a pretty good game to that point, exploiting the offensive glass to create points in opportunistic ways. (They had 10 second-chance points in the second quarter alone.) But when Denver's assault began in earnest, the home team couldn't keep up.
Call it a fluky shooting night if you'd like- even George Karl had trouble believing what he saw- but for a Denver team arriving in L.A. a sub .500 team on the road (11-12) and playing without Carmelo Anthony, to leave with a 13-point win is a massive boost. This team believes strongly they can beat the Lakers in a seven game series, and tonight's events did little to dent their confidence. Moreover, it moved the Nuggets to within 3.5 games of the Lakers with two more head-to-head games remaining. The Lakers could have, for all intents and purposes, put the Western Conference on ice with a victory.
Instead, Denver shot the Lakers in the foot and themselves into a "pennant" race. If things indeed tighten up in the W.C., if the Nuggets get on a run with the chance to seriously influence a potential postseason outcome, they'll likely look back on that 1:37 as the sequence that changed their season.
As for the champs, with a visit to Portland Saturday night and tests against San Antonio Monday and in Utah Wednesday, it doesn't get any easier. Hopefully, at least the weather gets better.