No matter how many things the Denver Nuggets did wrong Saturday, they somehow always remained within striking distance of the Dallas Mavericks.
And with a second left, Carmelo Anthony struck.
Anthony broke free of a defender trying to foul him and swished a 3-pointer, giving the Nuggets a 106-105 victory over the Mavericks and a 3-0 series lead that has been insurmountable in NBA history.
Despite missing 15 of their first 17 shots and getting only 10 points from their previously unstoppable center tandem of Nene and Chris Andersen, Denver trailed only 105-101 with 31 seconds left.
Anthony got a quick dunk off an inbounds play, then the Nuggets forced Dirk Nowitzki to miss a 13-footer with about 8 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Anthony took an inbounds pass and Dallas' Antoine Wright tried to foul him -- twice -- since the Mavericks had a foul to give.
Anthony lost his dribble the first time, then bounced off the second bump to find himself wide open. He buried the 3 from right in front of the Mavericks bench, where everyone was going bonkers over the lack of a foul call. It was pretty ironic considering there had been 61 fouls called to that point, keeping either team from ever getting into a flow the entire game.
"I didn't see a foul," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "It seemed like he fumbled the ball."
Dallas' last-gasp chance was a high-arching 3 from Nowitzki that was nowhere close to going in. At the buzzer, the crowd fell silent, the Nuggets began to celebrate and the Mavericks began to gripe.
Team owner Mark Cuban shoved a cameraman and Josh Howard was among several clusters of Dallas players who appeared to be exchanging words with Denver players and staff. Cuban continued his tirade behind the scorer's table, his face reddening.
"Officiating has to be a science, not an art," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "If I sit here and belabor this it's not going to be good for our league. It's one of those times where it's really an unfortunate thing."
The Nuggets won the first two games with ease, thanks to huge fourth quarters. They were better by a basket in the final period this time, and that was enough -- despite having as many fouls (34) as field goals, making only two shots longer than 5 feet in the first half and relying too much on Chauncey Billups and Anthony. Billups scored 32 points, Anthony 31 and the rest of the squad had 44.
Nene, who scored 24 and 25 the first two games, was 2-of-10 for five points. Andersen had been Mr. Energy, but he had a short fuse this time, fouling out in 11 minutes, albeit scoring five points.
"We knew it would be a hard-fought game, four-quarter game," Billups said. "We just stayed with it. We came up with a great win."
This is the first time the Nuggets have ever led 3-0 in a best-of-seven series. They'll go for their first four-game sweep Monday night.
All sorts of things are in their favor, from the fact no NBA team up 3-0 has ever lost the series to their dominance of Dallas this season. Denver is now 7-0 and is the only team to win on the Mavericks' court since mid-February; the Nuggets are 2-0 in that span, everyone else 0-17.
Nowitzki had 33 points and 16 rebounds, and Brandon Bass scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half to put Dallas in position to win. But the Mavericks' inability to pull away when they had their chance caught up to them.
Dallas never led by more than six despite Denver's horrid start, in part because of the foul trouble by many of its key players.
Howard returned from an ankle injury to score 14 points but was 5-of-15. Jason Terry was 5-of-12 for 17 points and Jason Kidd had 13 points, five assists and five rebounds.