The Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks Game Three was a physical foul-filled affair, as players pushed, shoved, and kicked their way through four quarters of playoff basketball.
Both teams battled long and hard throughout the game on Saturday, a contest that saw 61 foul calls, for 89 free throws, and one technical foul on Josh Howard.
In the end though, with the Mavs up two on the Nuggets, and time winding down, Dirk Nowitzki took what would be a game-winning shot with eight seconds left, but missed short off the front iron. During the ensuing time out, Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle told players to foul because they had one foul to give.
In a monumental playoff contest fought by two hungry teams, everything came down to the last shot.
What followed was Carmelo Anthony receiving the ball, dribbling to his right through contact, and shooting a dagger three-point game-winner. 106-105 Denver.
Antoine Wright smacked ‘Melo on his arm, but there was no call, a decision that was not only right at the time, but is also customary in the playoffs in general. Referees are less likely to call a foul in the closing seconds of games, instead letting players make plays, which makes basketball great in the first place.
For the NBA, amazing happened in Dallas on Saturday, as ‘Melo is emerging as a superstar, and Denver is contending.
Two hours after the game though, the NBA released a statement claiming that the refs should have blown their whistle, making the game’s ending even more controversial.
After the game, Carlisle was upset about the no-call, saying, “In a game where there are 61 fouls, unfortunately they don’t call the last foul.” Wright, the man in charge of fouling Anthony, argued, “What do you want me to do ... take him out and then I get a flagrant two late in the game? I made a play on the ball like I was told in the huddle and the call wasn't made."
Nuggets head coach George Karl, on the other hand, agreed with the no-call saying, “It seemed like he (Anthony) fumbled the ball,” which would mean there should not have been a foul.
I thought the play was relatively clean, and just hard-fought by ‘Melo to compose himself and shoot the ball true. Sure there was contact, but in reality, if the refs would have called the foul, it should have been a continuation, allowing Anthony to add to Denver’s lead.
If instead ‘Melo drives the ball to the hoop and there is contact, a foul would likely not be called, forcing him to make the shot anyway. Basically, there was no foul call, but the Mavs still had a chance to stop or foul Anthony before his game-winning shot.
As John Barry said postgame on SportsCenter, “You foul him and wrap him up. Go to a ref before the play and tell them and I guarantee they call the foul.” The Mavericks could have planned better to get the foul, and Wright should have simply wrapped ‘Melo up.
They didn’t do either, and in turn allowed Anthony to bury Dallas 3-0 in the semifinal series. No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit, and only five teams in sports history have a team accomplished the feat.
Following the game, Carmelo Anthony dodged questions about the call and said, “I have hit a lot of big shots throughout my very short career, but I never hit a big shot in a playoff like this, in a situation like this.”
“It was a thin line from being 2-1 or 3-0,” Anthony finished.
Indeed, the line the Nuggets walked was thin, as they battled back in the second half on the backs of ‘Melo and Chauncey Billups.
‘Melo’s shot was the biggest, but Mr. Big Shot Billups added many jewels of his own during the struggle. Billups led the Nuggets with 32 points, 23 of which came in the second half, and ‘Melo finished with 31 points and eight rebounds of his own.
Nowitzki had a game-high 33 points and 16 rebounds, but his efforts were not enough as he tired and could not put Denver away late. Jason Terry, Sixth Man of the Year, was second on the Mavericks with 17 points, and Brandon Bass added 16.
This series has shown the Nuggets are a superior team of players with gifted athletic abilities, too much for the older, slower Mavs to compete with. Dallas gave it their all in Game Three, but still could not even steal a game from Denver on their home floor.
This win is a huge bolster of confidence for the Nuggets, and should help them as they move on to the Western Conference Finals.
Look for Denver to finish off Dallas on Monday night to get the sweep against the Mavericks, 110-92.
Game Four takes place Monday at 9:30 ET on TNT.
In the Bonus
This marked the first time in team history the Nuggets have gone up 3-0 in a best-of-seven-series and they go for the sweep Monday night in Dallas. While Billups was big in the second, Anthony was large in the first half, scoring 19 of his 31 points, the two acting as Denver’s Yin and Yang.
Kenyon Martin added 12 points and four rebounds, and J.R. Smith contributed 10 points and six boards in the win. Chris “Birdman” Andersen had a rough game, and finished with more fouls (six) than points (five), and watched the remaining 9:09 from the bench.
If Denver does move on to the Western Conference Finals, they will face…wait, no one is sure yet. Sunday, the Houston Rockets shocked the LA Lakers 99-87, but were actually up by as much as 29 at one point, all without Yao Ming. Yao, who injured his ankle in Game Three will miss the remainder of the playoffs for the Rockets. The series now stands at 2-2, and Denver will be much more rested than either opponent they draw.