With pressure high, Nuggets turn to their cool-headed leader Billups
Chauncey Billups has appeared in seven straight NBA conference finals
Billups believes pressure of 3-2 series deficit provides motivation team needs
Nuggets understand good start to Game 6 essential in effort to extend series
LOS ANGELES -- When you have been to seven straight conference finals, two NBA Finals and have a shiny Finals MVP trophy collecting dust on your mantle like Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups has, chances are you don't sweat the small stuff. Like, you know, your team trailing 3-2 in the 2009 Western Conference finals.
"Nope," said Billups as he left a team meeting in Los Angeles on Thursday. "Everyone knows what I have been through. Guys that have been through what I have and lost are a dime a dozen. They brought me here to win. Guys can pull from me what I have been through and learn from how I got out if it."
It's a hypothetical question that has swept through the blogs and sports talk radio like wildfire: Can a team like Denver that has come so far really learn something from a player that has gone farther?
Billups says yes. As the Nuggets reviewed the film from their 103-92 loss to the Lakers in Game 5 on Wednesday, Billups surveyed the small ballroom in the basement of L.A.'s Ritz Carlton hotel. He was looking for faces of fear. What he saw were not the faces of a team frightened by the possibility of elimination; rather, a group of players anxious to prove that they were superior.
"I think in a situation [in which] you are facing elimination, there shouldn't be much you have to say," Billups said. "We have had a special season. We shouldn't think it should end. But for the guys [who] need a little more, I have plenty of stories about how I have gotten out of 3-2 messes before."
As the Nuggets playoff greybeard (he has played in 132 postseason games entering Game 6), Billups knows the first 12 minutes of Friday night's Game 6 are critical. That's when the nerves of a team that has yet to play in a win-or-go-home game take over, and when a team like the Lakers, who boast the best closer in the game in Kobe Bryant -- will look to dominate.
"That first quarter is huge," Billups said. "We have to bring the intensity. We have to show we still want to be in this series."
Part of that includes making perimeter shots. The Nuggets were white-hot from the outside in the conference semifinals with Billups (50.0 percent from the field), J.R. Smith (50.0 percent) and Carmelo Anthony (49.1 percent) leading the way. But in this series, Denver has gone cold, particularly from three-point range. They were 7-of-24 from beyond the arc in Games 4 and 5 and 5-of-27 from three in Game 3.
"It's about making some shots," said Billups.
It's also about leadership, which is where Billups comes in. The Nuggets have thanked Billups enough for helping them win 54 games in the regular season and advancing to the conference finals for the first time since 1985. Now they need more. They need Billups to get in the face of Denver's big men, who allowed the Lakers to score 54 of their 103 points in the paint Wednesday. They him to reign in the emotion that has led to 11 technical fouls called on the Nuggets this postseason. And they need him to live up to the nickname "Mr. Big Shot."
"I know I'm not nervous," Billups said. "You can thank my mom and dad for that. The last time I was nervous for a game was back in Minnesota. I'm ready. This team is ready. We're going to do whatever it takes to win."
"Chauncey's a stud, man," George Karl told the Denver Post. "I love being a part of who he is. He's a great competitor. He has so many winning intangibles that coaches just love to be a part of. Coach [Dean] Smith used to call it savvy. This basketball savvy, it's not about anything except winning. It's all about winning."
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