Chauncey Billups' homecoming couldn't have gone better. He scored a season-high 32 points and drew a crucial foul in the waning seconds to help seal the Los Angeles Clippers' 109-105 victory that snapped the Denver Nuggets' six-game winning streak Sunday night.
Billups received a rousing ovation during introductions, and some highlights of his days with the Nuggets were shown on the overhead scoreboards. The Denver native was enthusiastically introduced as "still the King of Park Hill."
Those cheers turned to groans when Billups scored a dozen points in the first quarter and swished a trio of 3-pointers in the third quarter, reminding the Nuggets and their fans of what they'd lost.
He saved his best play for the fourth quarter.
The only visitor who got a louder ovation was Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, sitting courtside.
The Nuggets opened a 10-point lead early in the fourth but the Clippers used a 10-0 run to tie it at 87 with 8½ minutes to go and it was close the rest of the way.
Just when the Nuggets started to pull away, going up five, Billups took over as he had so many times in this building.
His sixth 3-pointer tied it at 99, and his three-point play finished off an 8-0 spurt gave the Clippers a 102-99 lead with 2:37 left.
The Nuggets regained the lead 105-104 on Nene's dunk with 47 seconds remaining after Andre Miller's steal of Chris Paul's poor pass. But Paul's two free throws gave Los Angeles the lead for good with 36 seconds left.
DeAndre Jordan hit one of two free throws with 23 seconds left to give the Clippers a 107-105 lead, and after a timeout, Nene, who led the Nuggets with 18 points, pushed off against Billups, drawing the offensive foul with 18 seconds remaining.
Paul sank two free throws to push the Clippers' cushion to 109-105 with 17 seconds left, and the Nuggets weren't able to recover.
Paul finished with 25 points, and Blake Griffin added 17.
Billups had 15 points at the half and really got hot in the third quarter, sinking three straight 3-pointers, including one with Rudy Fernandez all over him that capped a stretch of five straight 3s for the Clippers, the other two coming from Paul.
The Nuggets took an 83-77 lead into the fourth quarter after Fernandez's astonishing tip-in at the third-quarter buzzer. Corey Brewer's desperation heave was off-target and Fernandez cut through the lane and with his left hand tipped the ball off the glass and through the hoop as the buzzer sounded and the backboard lit up.
Billups spent 2½ years in his second stint with the Nuggets, instantly turned a middling Denver team into a contender when he came over from Detroit for Allen Iverson in 2008. He guided the Nuggets to a franchise-best 54 wins and the Western Conference finals that year.
"I've told the story that if we don't make the Chauncey trade, I don't think I'm here right now," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "We were playing very ordinary basketball. Then we made the trade and we went from ordinary to good pretty quick. I remember when (former Nuggets general manager Mark Warkentien) called and said the trade was done, I was downstairs in my house and I actually think I got down on my knees and thanked God."
Conversely, Karl nearly cried 11 months ago when Billups, who starred at the University of Colorado, got caught up in Anthony's trade demand and was included in the 13-player, three-way deal on Feb. 22, 2011, that sent him to New York.
"I think Chauncey's a winner and he's one of the best winners of all-time," Karl said. "He has great skills but he also has a great head. ... I think everybody knows it was a sad day when we had to part with him. I mean, it was hard on everybody."
He landed in Los Angeles this season when the Knicks invoked the amnesty clause that's part of the new collective bargaining agreement and cut him without having to count his $14.5 million salary against their cap.
Claimed by the Clippers, Billups briefly contemplated retirement but then decided to play a 15th NBA season, and as he showed Sunday night, he's still at the top of his game.
He's a big part of Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro's star-studded veteran cast that includes Griffin, Paul, Mo Williams and Caron Butler that's speeding the learning curve for younger teammates while also stealing the buzz from Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in Los Angeles.
Billups' departure led to more playing time for Ty Lawson in Denver, and he was slated to start Sunday night after missing time with a sprained left ankle, but he was a late scratch. That scuttled some of Karl's plans to play fast against the Clippers, getting the Nuggets into the open court more.
Notes: Karl said he reminded his team that of its six previous wins, only one came against a winning team, "and 16 of our next 18 are against winning teams, so we will know a lot more come March 1 than we know right now." ... Billups said he's trying to get former Denver teammate Kenyon Martin to join the Clippers after his Chinese team ends its season.