DENVER (AP) - After fans in Denver showed him their appreciation, Chauncey Billups gave them one more reason to miss their native son and rue the day he left.
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.
It was Billups' first game at the Pepsi Center since the Nuggets included him in the Carmelo Anthony trade nearly a year ago.
The veteran guard received a rousing ovation during introductions.
``That was beautiful, man,' Billups said. ``That was beautiful.'
The only visitor who got louder applause was Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, sitting courtside.
``That ovation was well-deserved,' Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo said about Billups.
Those cheers quickly turned to groans the rest of the night as Billups reminded the Nuggets and their fans just what they'd lost even as Denver has won 32 of 45 since the blockbuster trade.
Just when the Nuggets started to pull away in the fourth quarter, 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 that 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. But Chris Paul's two free throws gave Los Angeles the lead for good with 36 seconds left.
Trailing 107-105, the Nuggets got the ball into Nene down low, but he pushed off against Billups and was whistled for an offensive foul with 18 seconds left.
``Yeah, we knew we were switching and I figured at some point I'd probably be on him,' Billups said. ``And they wanted to exploit the mismatch when they went to Nene vs. me and I was just kind of fronting him and as soon as he grabbed me, pushed me, boom, I went down.'
A little overacting helped as Billups hit the floor hard.
``I mean, my back is hurting,' Billups cracked. ``Hey, I need a chiropractor, man.'
In the other locker room, Nene said: ``It was the wrong call, but that's the ruling. It was a bad call and they won.'
Nuggets coach George Karl said, ``We didn't get a generous whistle. I thought the last play Chauncey was actually trying to foul Nene on purpose. That is a tough call in that situation.'
Paul was fouled on the ensuing inbounds and sank two free throws to cap the win. He finished with 25 points, and Blake Griffin added 17.
``Chauncey's like me. It doesn't matter where you play, you want to win,' Paul said. ``You couldn't care less if you're at home or you're a thousand miles away from home, you just want to win.'
Actually, it meant a lot to Billups.
``It's just always good to play in front of your family and it's always good to compete against friends,' Billups said.
``You'd be hard pressed to say anyone's brought more to a city, to a team, an area - sure it's special to come back,' Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. ``I'm happy Chauncey played well.'
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.
``I think we saw Chauncey do a similar thing to Detroit when we went back to Detroit,' Karl said. ``When he gets in that zone .'
Billups spent 2 1/2 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,' 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.'
And 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 everybody knows it was a sad day when we had to part with him,' Karl said. ``I mean, it was hard on everybody.'
He said Sunday night he wasn't happy about getting dragged away from Denver because of Anthony's desire to play in the Big Apple.
``It really wasn't my fight - although I had to go down,' Billups said. ``So, that was frustrating. ... You know, I've accomplished a lot in my career and I've done a lot, being thrown in a deal for some people that haven't accomplished what I've accomplished? So, that was the frustration that I had, but it is what it is.'
Billups wasn't done being dissed.
The Knicks invoked the amnesty clause that's part of the new collective bargaining agreement and cut him last fall without having to count his $14.5 million salary against their cap. Billups let it be known he wanted to clear waivers so he could go wherever he wanted, but he was claimed by the Clippers and briefly contemplated retirement.
``It was weird,' Billups said. ``I was hoping to get through it. Didn't. But all things happen as they're supposed to, you know? And I'm here and I'm happy to be here. We have a great, young team. I'm still able to be me and do what I do, so it's a blessing.'
He's a big part of 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.
Unable to run the Clippers ragged, the Nuggets found themselves in a tight game and things didn't go their way down the stretch, thanks to Billups.
``It was a good loss, if there is such a thing,' Karl said. ``We just have to keep our heads up and regroup and get Ty back on the court.'
Notes: The Nuggets have lost three straight to the Clippers, their longest losing streak against any team. ... Billups said he's trying to get former Denver teammate Kenyon Martin to join the Clippers after his Chinese team ends its season.
The Associated Press News Service
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