Chauncey Billups said it didn’t matter. He claimed it was just another game against a conference opponent. He tried hard to drive the message home before returning home to play the Denver Nuggets and even after he led the Los Angeles Clippers to their biggest road win of the season, 109-105, Sunday night.
But this was more than just a big win for the Clippers.
It was a big win for Billups.
That much was evident as Billups, who scored 32 points, including 6-of-12 from beyond the arc, was hugged by his teammates after the game and smiled when Chris Paul walked up behind him and yelled, “32! 32!” while he was being interviewed on the court.
It was Billups’ first game back in Denver after being traded by the Nuggets to the New York Knicks as part of the Carmelo Anthony trade last year. He never wanted to go and Denver wanted him to go but business is business in the NBA.
Denver welcomed him back with a standing ovation. The Nuggets’ public address announcer introduced him as “still the King of Park Hill.” Billups even got a pre-game hug from Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow on the court before the game.
By the time the game was over, however, Denver fans couldn’t wait until Billups got back on the team plane with the Clippers and flew back to his new home in Los Angeles.
Billups kept the Clippers in the game early and late, even as the Nuggets went on run after run in the second half and took a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.
The Clippers finally tied the score and took the lead thanks to Billups’ big plays late in the game. His 3-pointer with three minutes left tied the score at 99-99 and his conventional 3-point play gave the Clippers a 102-99 lead with 2:36 remaining. Billups then drew an offensive charge from Nene with 18 seconds left as the Nuggets tried to tie the score or take the lead and he sealed the Clippers’ win with a couple of defensive rebounds off misses by Rudy Fernandez and Al Harrington.
On the bench, Billups continually talked to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and tried to calm them down after the frontcourt duo continued to complain about non-calls they must learn they aren’t going to get on the road. If the Clippers are to become a good road time, it will be Billups’ leadership and calming effect on the bench some nights that will be just as valuable as his play on the court.
Billups’ never wanted to leave Denver and truth be told he may have never wanted to come to Los Angeles before the Clippers claimed him off of waivers before the season, but he has quickly become an invaluable presence on a young team learning how to win close games on the road.
“This is about us becoming a good road team,” Billups said. “We got to start somewhere. We struggled a little bit thus far this season but this was a good win for us.”