Carmelo Anthony scored a game-high 34 points and nine rebounds as the Denver Nuggets upset the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers 106-103 to level their Western Conference finals series at 1-1.
|J.R. Smith, left, and Carmelo Anthony celebrate [GALLO/GETTY]
The lead changed hands three times in a nail-biting fourth quarter before two free throws from Chauncey Billups put the Nuggets 105-101 ahead with just 13.7 seconds left.
Although Spanish forward Pau Gasol countered with two free throws for the Lakers, Billups was successful with one more attempt from the free-throw line to give Denver some breathing space with 4.3 seconds remaining.
Lakers guard Derek Fisher missed a game-tying, three-point jumper shortly before the buzzer sounded and Denver were able to celebrate a thrilling comeback win after trailing by 14 points early in the second period.
"To get one on the road is always tough and we came here and got it," Anthony said.
"We are mentally tough. We showed that in this game, coming off the loss that we gave away in Game One. I am so proud of my team for what we did tonight."
Nuggets end drought
Billups finished with 27 points while Linas Kleiza and Kenyon Martin weighed in with 16 apiece as the Nuggets ended a run of 11 consecutive playoff losses to the Lakers, dating back to 1985.
All-Star guard Kobe Bryant top-scored for Los Angeles with 32 points, including making all 10 of his free throws, and Trevor Ariza contributed a career playoff-high 20 as the Lakers surrendered homecourt advantage in front of a capacity crowd at Staples Center.
The best-of-seven series will now shift to Denver for Saturday's Game Three.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson pinpointed his team's failure to close out the second quarter as a significant turning point.
"That was really poorly done by our team," he said. "We had a couple of turnovers, a couple of fouls that we didn't have to make; they got a couple of offensive rebounds and capitalised on it. It made a big difference in their game.
"They play at a different level on their home court," Jackson added. "We are going to have to be able to be prepared for that."
Lakers strong start
After scraping past the Nuggets 105-103 in Tuesday's opener, the Lakers made a strong start with superb defence and offensive rebounding to race 31-23 up after the first quarter.
They maintained that pressure early in the second period to stretch their lead to 14 points before Anthony and Lithuanian forward Kleiza, off the bench, sparked a Nuggets fightback.
With Billups and Kleiza each landing a three-point jumper, Denver produced an unanswered 12-0 run before going into half-time with the deficit cut to 55-54.
Although a seven-point burst from Ariza put the Lakers 71-64 up early in the third period, the Nuggets again clawed their way back to enter the fourth period just 81-80 down.
An imperious two-point jumper from Anthony gave Denver their biggest lead of the night at 91-84 with 9.06 seconds remaining before the Lakers rallied with three-pointers from Bryant and Shannon Brown.
Two free throws from Lamar Odom gave Los Angeles a narrow 92-91 advantage which they extended to 95-93 before the Nuggets regained control in the final moments.
"Tonight it came down to a free-throw shooting contest really, and we caved first," Bryant said. "It was a simple as that. They came here and did what they had to do."
Anthony became the first Denver player to score 30 or more points in five consecutive playoff games since 1976.