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Uprooted Billups embraces the challenge

New York Knicks point guard Chauncey Billups (4)

New York Knicks point guard Chauncey Billups (4) drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks point guard Keyon Dooling (55) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. (Feb. 23, 2011) Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

Chauncey Billups knows he was somewhat of an afterthought, the add-on player in the Knicks' quest to reel in the ultimate prize.

But the Denver native proved last night that, in many ways, he's just as valuable as Carmelo Anthony.

The Knicks new point guard scored 21 points, dished out eight assists and grabbed six rebounds in his Madison Square Garden debut - a 114-108 win over Milwaukee.

"It was a good day. It was a really good day," he said. "I'm excited about everything, of course, being able to get out there. When you're going through so much in the last couple of days that we've been through, just getting out there on the floor, it's good. That's our safe haven."

"And it was good to be able to do that and for the fans to embrace me and, of course, embrace Melo like they did. It just felt good."

Affectionately known as "Mr. Big Shot" around the league, Billups scored his first basket on a pull-up three pointer early in the first quarter. But it was his pass in-between the legs of Andrew Bogut that got the Garden crowd on its feet.

With 3:08 remaining in the third, Billups drove by John Salmons, then bounced the ball through Bogut's legs, picked it up on the other side and scored a layup before getting fouled.

Anthony had said during their pregame news conference that he and Billups would need time to jell with their new teammates. But it didn't take Billups long to prove he can handle the Big Apple stage. His no-look and behind-the-back passes energized the crowd and his leadership helped the Knicks stay in control.

Sure, there were miscues, but that's just a product of unfamiliarity, the veteran guard, now in his 14th season, said. But thanks to coach Mike D'Antoni's easy-going style, Billups felt at ease from the start.

"I think it helped a lot that Mike is a coach that just kind of let's you play with some freedom, play with pace and just lets you read certain situations," he said. "With that being said, I really don't know the offense yet. He was just kind of like, 'Do what you do.' I'm good when I can do that."

Billups had envisioned retiring as a Nugget and joining the team's front office when his playing days were over.

"This is a huge day for Melo," he said. "I know how bad he wanted this to happen. Initially I'm sure I probably wasn't part of the plan but everybody kind of sees the mentality that we play with together and the cohesiveness that we have on the court. Why would you break that up?"

Billups said telling his family of his latest trade was the hardest thing he's ever had to do.

"I'm not disappointed at all about being a Knick," he said after the game. "Actually, I'm excited, I respect this franchise.

"My feelings about Denver and that whole situation was more principle than anything. It wasn't just about being a Nugget or just being at home. My family's there, of course, I'm from there. It's not easy to get that trade call and you got to go home and face your three kids and tell them 'Daddy's leaving.' . . . As far as the Knicks go, I'm excited to be a Knick."

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