LOS ANGELES - Carmelo Anthony has officially arrived and the Denver Nuggets found a way to get tough down the stretch making a resounding a statement tying the best-of -seven Western Conference finals series at one game apiece with a 106-103 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.
Carmelo out dueled his Olympic teammate Kobe Bryant tonight, with his second 30-point game of the series, scoring 34 points on 12-29 shooting. After the Lakers ran out to a fast 14-point lead in the first half but the offense of the purple and gold stalled, stiffened and sputtered in the second half.
They appeared to get cold feet with poor offensive rotations, costly turnovers and poor free-throw shooting ultimately making enough mistakes to lose the home-court advantage.
However, the Denver Nuggets' defense had a lot to do with the come from their behind victory, forcing three huge 24-second shot clock violations. The Lakers led the Nuggets in almost every statistical category, shooting 45.5 % from the field, 40% from 3-point land, forced 14 Denver turnovers and controlled the paint with 52 points (though 40 of those points came in the first half) but when it counted they could not hit the easy ones.
The Lakers failed time and again to hit their free throws in the crucial moments of the game going 27-35 overall.
With the game teetering in the balance at 95-95 late in the final period Lakers forward Pau Gasol stepped to the line with a chance to give the team the lead but instead, he did the unthinkable clanging two off the iron.
The Nuggets were only slightly better from the charity stripe going 29-37 but had a stretch of 16 straight makes in the fourth quarter. Kobe Bryant had another big 32-point night, but it was not enough to stifle the resilient Nuggets squad.
"We just had to find a way to get tough!", a confident Chauncey Billups said.
He was partially right, they also needed a lot from their young forward Carmelo Anthony. Melo has scored a eye-popping 71 in the first two contests on the road and the talented Lakers simply have no answer for the former Syracuse Orangemen.
The Lakers Trevor Ariza almost stole the game again pouring in a much needed 20 points, four steals and three rebounds but his three turnovers were second to Pau Gasols' four.
Combined they were almost half of the team's total 16. Ariza's last turnover occurred after the Lakers won a jump ball with seconds to go but he slipped losing the ball to the Nuggets.
However, Phil Jackson would beg to differ on Ariza's slip after the jump ball.
"To me it looks like he was pushed by Melo" said the nine-time championship winning coach.
Still with 4.3 seconds to go the Lakers struggled to get the ball inbound then just as Derek Fisher rose to heave a desperation three that would have tied the game, a Nene-eclipse occurred.
The 6'11" Brazilian used all of his frame to distract Fisher's shot just enough to force an air ball which fell right into the hands waiting arms of Billups who secured and cradled the rebound like a newborn baby sealing the Game Two victory for the Nuggets.
L.A. now faces a big challenge as the series shifts to the Mile High city. The raucous fans inside Pepsi Center will be salivating Saturday night for Game Three.
"We're not the best road team in the league for nothing," said a stoic Kobe Bryant during his post-game interview. "We'll go up to Denver and see if we can't get Game Three."