The fourth quarter belongs to the Denver Nuggets, who keep turning close games into blowouts with an energizing mix of breakaway baskets, dashing defense and old-fashioned hustle. Behind another final-quarter tear, the Nuggets cruised to a 117-105 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series that now shifts to Dallas.
"We're just an explosive team in that way," Chauncey Billups said. "That's just kind of what we do, that's who we've been all year. This is an explosive team. We turn turnovers into points."
And tight games into a trouncing.
The Nuggets pulled away from the Mavericks in the fourth quarter with a 16-2 run. It's the second straight game the Mavericks have watched the Nuggets scamper away in the final quarter.
"They get on you so quick with their ability to run and shoot the ball," said Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 35 points. "They've got so many weapons out there."
But their best weapon may have been their hustle.
Like the play Billups made in the third quarter when Jason Kidd's errant pass sailed into the backcourt.
Instead of watching the ball travel out of bounds, Billups charged full steam after it, edging Jason Terry in a foot-race. Billups then fired a pass to J.R. Smith under the basket for a layup to give the Nuggets a 77-76 lead.
The team wouldn't trail again.
"That play right there was the biggest play of the game," said Carmelo Anthony, who scored 15 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter.
That was simply Billups being Billups.
"Those are absolutely the kind of plays you've got to make," Billups said. "That play in a strange sort of way kind of turned the game around because it told us that this is the kind of game it's going to be."
After two fourth-quarter meltdowns, what's it going to take for Dallas to knock off Denver?
"A more solid fourth quarter," Nowitzki said. "We're right there. We all know basketball is a game of runs and mistakes and so far in the fourth quarter we've made more mistakes and they've made runs when they've needed them."
The Mavs are heading home for Game 3 on Saturday, a place they've found quite cozy. The team is 17-1 at home since the All-Star break, their lone loss being to Denver.
"They've held serve," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "We've got to do the same."
The stats are stacked against the Mavericks. In league postseason history, teams that have jumped out to a 2-0 lead have gone on to win a best-of-seven series 93.6 percent of the time.
Dallas also has Josh Howard hampered by a sprained right ankle.
The Mavericks' energizer was sidelined after just six scoreless minutes in Game 2 on Tuesday after he appeared to land awkwardly on his right foot while trying to block Anthony's layup.
Carlisle isn't sure of Howard's status for Game 3.
"We'll just see how Mother Nature treats us here," Carlisle said. "We obviously need him."
So far in the series, the Mavericks haven't been able to contain Nene, who scored a postseason career-high 25 points Tuesday. He had a thunderous dunk midway through the fourth quarter on a fastbreak that electrified the capacity crowd.
"Nene continues to be a presence for us," said coach George Karl, whose team has won six postseason games this year by an average of 24.8 points. "They have a tough time figuring out how to cover him."
Cavaliers 99, Hawks 72
At Cleveland, LeBron James scored 34 points and the Cavaliers, who waited nine days between playoff games after a first-round sweep, won their Eastern Conference semifinal opener.
James added 10 rebounds, three assists and four steals as the top-seeded Cavs won their fifth straight lopsided game in a postseason that has so far mirrored the best regular season in franchise history.
Mo Williams added 21 points for Cleveland, which has won each of its five games by double figures.
Josh Smith scored 22 and Mike Bibby 19 for the Hawks, who needed seven games to get past Miami and are playing in the second round for the first time in 10 years.