Nuggets even Western finals against Lakers at 2-2

(AP) — A dominating effort on the boards and a great performance by the bench helped the Denver Nuggets overcome a below-par effort from an ailing Carmelo Anthony.The Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Lakers 120-101 on Monday night, evening the Western Conference finals at two games apiece.Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith scored 24 points and Kenyon Martin had a double-double as the Nuggets posted their eighth blowout of the postseason but first against Los Angeles following three games that came down to the final seconds.The Nuggets didn’t need to worry about a botched inbounds pass in the closing seconds like the ones that cost them wins in Games 1 and 3, although Kobe Bryant had another monster fourth quarter in a furious attempt to put a stranglehold on the series that shifts to Los Angeles for Game 5 Wednesday night.Bryant, who is averaging 37 points in the series, scored 34, including 14 in the fourth quarter.He put a scare into the Nuggets and their fans until Smith hit back-to-back dagger 3-pointers for a 113-96 cushion.Anthony finished with a hard-fought 15 points, and Martin had 13 points and 15 boards. Nene also had a double double with 14 points and 13 rebounds.”It just shows we have heart and can play with a man down,” Smith said. “We did a lot this year and kept it up.”The game featured four technical fouls and 84 free throws, 49 by Denver.’Melo’s shooting slump continued as he went 3-for-16 and missed his first 10 shots. Making matters worse, he turned his right ankle in the first half. At the break, he needed fluids and had his ankle retaped, then returned with a dogged determination to help the Nuggets however he could to pull even in the series.Bryant and Pau Gasol (21 points) kept the Lakers within striking distance. The Lakers cut a 16-point deficit to 102-92 on four Bryant free throws with 3:49 left thanks to technicals on Martin and Anthony.The Nuggets relied on a balanced attack with Anthony ailing – seven players scored in double digits – and while they still weren’t very good from the floor (44 percent), they did work the ball around for better looks, attacked the lane more and got to the line. This accomplished exactly what all those misfirings couldn’t in Game 3 – energize the Pepsi Center crowd.The Nuggets, who haven’t lost back-to-back home games all season, were coming off their first loss in the Mile High City since March 9. They knew they blew a golden opportunity 48 hours earlier by trying for the dagger and misfiring on 22 of 27 3-pointers – and after three of the conversions, they gave back a point with technical free throws, no less.”So, we were really 2-for-27,” Nuggets coach George Karl cracked before tip-off.This time, they shot 7-for-24 from 3-point range. One of them was Billups’ pull-up 3 after a steal by Smith that gave Denver an 83-70 lead with 10 minutes to go.The Lakers and Nuggets had the Pepsi Center to themselves Monday night after World Wrestling Entertainment moved their Monday Night Raw card to the Staples Center in Los Angeles because of the double booking in Denver that WWE chairman Vince McMahon milked for all it was worth.The fans saw plenty of gripping and grabbing in this rough-and-tumble series. This game featured 55 fouls.The Nuggets led 52-45 at halftime even though Anthony had just five points on 1-for-11 shooting, extending his shooting slump to five quarters.’Melo, who went 4-for-13 in Game 3 after five straight 30-point games, started out ice cold, although some of them were easy put-backs for others.With Anthony on the bench for several minutes spanning the first and second quarters, the Nuggets stretched their lead from six points to 13, and they stretched it to 39-24 after his return. But he went out briefly after landing awkwardly, and the Lakers quickly trimmed their deficit to single digits.Anthony finally scored with 1:01 left in the first half when he slammed the ball through the hoop only to come up hobbling downcourt.Notes:@ Lakers F Trevor Ariza, playing with a hip pointer and strained groin he aggravated in Game 3 finished with three points and five fouls. … Denver has never won a series in which it’s trailed 2-1 (nine times). … In their only other trips to the Western Conference finals, the Nuggets trailed 3-1 to Seattle in 1978 and the Lakers in 1985. … Denver was 7-for-21 in the first quarter after their 5-for-22 meltdown in the fourth quarter Saturday night.

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