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Villanueva, Bucks hold off Nuggets in final seconds

Feb 23, 2009 - 3:08 AM MILWAUKEE (Ticker) -- Charlie Villanueva scored a season-high 36 points as the Milwaukee Bucks ended a brief two-game skid with a 120-117 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

Ramon Sessions had 27 points and eight assists for the Bucks, who showed some grit down the stretch against the contending Nuggets.

"We we're pretty (good) the last 2 1/2 minutes on both ends," Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said. "We really got crushed on the glass tonight, but we got a few big offensive rebounds late.

"Obviously, Charlie and Ramon are carrying the offensive load, and the other guys are chipping in. Those two guys made the big offensive plays for us."

Denver attempted two potential game-tying 3-pointers in the final 24 seconds, with J.R. Smith tossing up an airball and Chauncey Billups rattling one out on his team's final possession.

Nuggets coach George Karl did not want to blame Smith for his errant attempt.

"I think J.R. made the decision on his own," the coach said. "He was our first option. He has the ability to make shots off-balance a little bit."

It was the second straight disappointing loss for the Nuggets, who fell to the Chicago Bulls on Friday. But despite that setback, Denver had been playing well entering this one, winning seven of its last 10 and going 5-2 on its voyage across the country.

But it was left scratching its head once again. Billups suggested that his club hasn't been doing well against emerging young teams, which incidentally can be overlooked.

"We didn't come out and execute," he said. "On the road, it's tough, especially (against) a young team that kind of runs like this, and they got a couple of guys rolling. That pretty much led to our demise tonight."

Carmelo Anthony had 33 points and nine rebounds for Denver, which held a 72-69 lead at halftime after an explosive first half that was capped by Dahntay Jones' half-court 3-pointer at the horn.

Sessions admitted that the high-scoring contest wasn't what the Bucks wanted.

"We were scoring baskets," he said. "That's their kind of game, so we were lucky tonight. We have to come out better next game and defend. Giving up 117, it's tough to win. We were able to get a couple of stops and a couple of loose balls at the end."

Anthony, who has been battling a bruised left knee, did not show signs of the injury in this one, during which he shot 10-of-19 from the field. The former All-Star, however, was nowhere to be found in the waning seconds.

The teams were tied 96-96 after three quarters, a prelude the back-and-forth nature of the final period.

After the clubs traded baskets for most of the quarter, Anthony hit two free throws with 2:14 left to make it 113-112.

Richard Jefferson responded on the ensuing possession, converting a layup to make it 114-113 and give the Bucks the lead for good.

Villanueva then dropped in a difficult runner over Chris Andersen and Linas Kleiza to forge a three-point advantage, setting the stage for Smith, who came up woefully short from the arc.

It was a hot-shooting night for Villanueva, who made 14-of-23 from the floor, including a half-court, buzzer-beating shot at the end of the first quarter. The Connecticut product said that got him going for the rest of the night.

"I was just seeing what the defense game me," he said. "I had a lot of good looks in the first quarter. Once I hit that half-court shot, I knew I was going to have a big game. I had it going early on and, once I hit that shot, I was on fire."

Luke Ridnour and Charlie Bell then each sandwiched 1-of-2 showings from the line around Anthony's layup. Bell's foul shot made it 118-115, allowing the Nuggets to have one more chance at a tie.

Billups, looking determined to take the big shot, was hounded by Sessions, who did not leave his feet after a pump fake and forced the former NBA Finals MVP to throw up a wild, errant toss.

Jefferson scored 17 points and Bell added 13 for Milwaukee, which recovered from a 55-point performance thrown on it by LeBron James in Friday's 111-103 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Billups scored 21 points for the Nuggets, who lost forward Nene to a right knee contusion late in the fourth. He was on crutches after the game and had ice wrapped around the injury.