NBA

Nuggets finish strong to top Grizz

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)

The Denver Nuggets' reserves brought the energy, and J.R. Smith led the charge.

In what some Nuggets players called their best fourth quarter of the season, Denver outscored Memphis 40-23, rallying to beat the Grizzlies 125-108 Saturday night.

"It was unbelievable," Smith said. "It was a great beginning to the fourth quarter. I think it was the best (closing quarter) we've had all year by far."

Smith was a key factor, scoring 19 of his 30 points in the second half. Sixteen of those points came in the final period when the Nuggets turned a close game into a rout.

Smith was 11 of 16 from the field, including 7 for 10 on 3-pointers, to help the Nuggets win their sixth straight.

"That was crazy," said reserve guard Anthony Carter, who directed the subs and had seven assists. "We got Nene and J.R. going, and once J.R. is going, it's all over. I thought it was my duty to find those two guys, and J.R. started making 3s and 3s, then we just pulled away."

Carmelo Anthony finished with 24 points and Chauncey Billups added 22 for Denver. Billups recognized the key was the reserves' rally that started in the late stages of the third and carried into the fourth with the Nuggets scoring 17 consecutive points.

"It was fun to watch," Billups said. "You've got to give a lot of credit to Anthony Carter. He came off the bench and was huge. Huge. The way he pushed the ball and found everybody."

O.J. Mayo led Memphis with 25 points, while Zach Randolph had 22 points and 12 rebounds. Marc Gasol scored 17 points, Marcus Williams added 13 and Rudy Gay 12.

Denver trailed by 12 points in the first half, but the game-changing rally into the fourth quarter took the Nuggets' lead to double digits.

"Once they started making shots, it kind of took our heart away a little bit," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. "We couldn't recover from that. I called timeout two or three times, and we just couldn't get to the point of revving it back up."

Memphis, which has a recent history of building large early leads, shot 65 percent in the first quarter, including 3 of 5 on 3s.

Memphis was still shooting better than 55 percent midway through the second, but Denver managed to stay close as Malik Allen, Chris Andersen and Smith provided energy off the bench. At that point, the Nugget reserves had outscored the starters.

Both teams would end up shooting well in the half - Memphis connecting on 56 percent, while the Nuggets hit 54 percent.

Memphis carried a 63-57 lead at the break as four starters were in double figures. Mayo had 15 points, while Randolph scored 13.

Anthony and Billups had 12 apiece, while Smith scored 11 for Denver.

"We played badly in the first half. We were lucky we were only down six," said acting coach Adrian Dantley, who is now 5-1 while filling in as coach George Karl undergoes cancer treatments.

Denver started cutting into the Grizzlies' lead by turning up the defensive pressure. Anthony scored 10 points in the third, and the teams were tied at 85 heading into the fourth quarter.

That was when the Nuggets pulled away with Smith providing the bulk of the offense with help from Nene (13 points).

"They just ran off on us," Randolph said of the Nuggets' fourth quarter.

Denver took its first lead of the game at the opening of the fourth behind a pair of dunks from Nene and a 3-pointer by Smith. Another 3-pointer from Smith, who hit 4-of-6 from outside the arc in the fourth, extended the lead to 12, capping the 17-0 run.

Memphis never cut the advantage under double digits after that as Denver missed only one of its first 12 shots in the final quarter.

"I think it took the fight out of us, and we put our heads down once they made the run," Mayo said. "We got down on ourselves. "

Notes: Billups became the seventh active NBA player to record 5,000 assists in his career. Before the loss, Memphis was undefeated in the second game of back-to-backs since the All-Star break. ... The Grizzlies have lost eight straight home games against teams with winning records. ... Nuggets G Ty Lawson missed his seventh consecutive game with a left shoulder contusion suffered Feb. 28. ... Gasol took a shot to the shoulder in the latter stages of the third quarter, and went to the locker room for evaluation. The initial diagnosis was a muscle strain in his neck. He returned in the early stages of the fourth. ... Smith's seven 3-pointers matched an opponent's high against Memphis this season.
Tagged: Nuggets, Grizzlies, Anthony Carter, Chauncey Billups, Zach Randolph, Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Marc Gasol, O.J. Mayo, Ty Lawson

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