The Denver Nuggets didn’t need Carmelo Anthony’s heroics to beat the Phoenix Suns. In fact, they didn’t need Anthony at all.
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J.R. Smith scored a season-high 30 points and the Nuggets overcame the absence of Anthony to hold off the Suns 138-133 Sunday night in the highest-scoring game in the NBA this season.
”It was a unique game,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. ”I think everybody enjoyed the game except the coach who coaches defense.”
Anthony was feeling ill Friday against Chicago but still played, even hitting the winner in the final seconds. On Sunday, he lasted just 2:48 before sitting for good.
Karl said he talked to Anthony before the game and his star player convinced the coach to give him the start.
”He wanted to try it,” Karl said. ”Melo knows how important he is, but he probably made the right decision. He didn’t look very good. He didn’t look like a healthy guy.”
His teammates picked him up. Chauncey Billups returned to the lineup after missing three games with a sprained right wrist and had 25 points and eight assists for the Nuggets.
”Without him, we’re not as predictable,” Billups said. ”When Melo’s in you go to him, let him orchestrate. I’m sure not having him out there made it difficult for them to know what we were going to do.”
Without Anthony, the Nuggets topped their previous high this season by 18 points and had their highest point total since scoring 147 in double overtime at Seattle on April 6, 2008.
”You can’t win a game where you don’t guard anybody,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. ”You got to guard one person. Even if we guard George Karl, we got to guard somebody.”
Jason Richardson did his best to keep Phoenix in it with 39 points, and Steve Nash had 17 points and 11 assists.
Nash missed a 3-point attempt with 17.8 seconds left that would have tied the game for Phoenix, which trailed by 19 before narrowing the gap.
The Nuggets were ahead 115-99 when the Suns scored nine straight to get back in it. Smith and Arron Afflalo hit 3-pointers to keep the lead at nine, but Richardson hit two from long range to cut it to five with 2:08 left.
After Smith missed on a 3, Nash drained one to make it 128-125 with 1:35 left.
Billups answered with a layup and Smith hit two free throws, but Richardson connected on his seventh 3 of the night to cut it to four.
Smith missed two free throws with 28.9 seconds left and Nash’s three-point play with 22.5 seconds left made it 132-131. Billups hit two free throws and after Nash missed a wide-open 3-point shot that would have tied it, the Nuggets closed it out from the line.
”When it was all said and done, we just had to make free throws,” Smith said. ”I missed two big ones. Fortunately we had Chauncey and Arron to come in and finish it off for us.”
The Nuggets weren’t happy with their defense in the final frame.
”I thought we’d do a little better in the fourth quarter,” Billups said. ”Giving up 44 points is really unacceptable, no matter who you’re playing.”
The Suns got as close as eight in the third quarter before the Nuggets pulled away. Six straight free throws got the lead to double digits and Smith hit one of his five 3-pointers to stretch the lead to 14. Two 3-pointers and a bucket by Shelden Williams made it 101-84 with 2:12 left in the second quarter.
”They had us down big and we just kept on fighting and got back into the game,” Richardson said. ”At that point it was kind of too late.”
Notes: The season’s previous highest-scoring game was Golden State’s 132-128 win in regulation over Houston on Oct. 27th. … Anthony’s streak of scoring in double digits ended at 134. The last time he failed to score at least 10 was against Houston on Nov. 30, 2008, when he had just two points. … Hakim Warrick replaced Hedo Turkoglu in the Suns’ lineup. Turkoglu, who started the first 16 games, finished with 13 points. … The Nuggets’ last win over Phoenix was Dec. 12, 2009.