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NUGGETS 116, CELTICS 105

Celtics have no answers

West hurts his back in loss to Nuggets

DENVER -- The Celtics could have used Allen Iverson last night. Then again, they probably would not have been choosy in the second half. Any healthy player not prone to foul trouble would have been just fine.

But in his first start with his new team, Iverson (28 points, 13 assists) was busy leading the Nuggets to a 116-105 victory over the Celtics at the Pepsi Center. It was his first win with Denver and his first win with any team since the 76ers defeated the Bulls Nov. 24.

Meanwhile, the Celtics dropped their third game in a row, and it will be tough to reverse that trend tonight against the Clippers, especially considering that there was a moment last night when Doc Rivers wondered whether he would have enough players to finish the game.

When Delonte West took a hard fall trying to block a layup by Earl Boykins near the end of the first half, it was clear the Celtics could not catch a break. West was charged with goaltending, and the points capped a 20-5 run that pushed the Nuggets ahead by 12 points with 44.2 seconds remaining in the half. By halftime, Denver held a 57-47 advantage over a Boston team struggling with foul trouble as well as injuries. That proved enough of a cushion to keep Denver ahead for the remainder of the contest.

"I thought the effort was great but the execution was poor," said Rivers. "Defensively, I'm obviously disappointed. But our guys are trying to do the right things. The focus and the thought process of doing it is going to take work."

That process becomes more difficult if West cannot play tonight. There was concern as he remained on his back just behind the baseline for three minutes and talked with trainer Ed Lacerte. As West was helped off the floor and into the locker room, he looked too hurt and shaken to return. He took the floor at the start of the third, but it was quickly apparent he could not play. Just 13 seconds into the third quarter, Rivers pulled West and the point guard went back to the locker room for good with back spasms.

"I definitely want to go [tonight]," said West. "We're just going to do extreme treatment leading up to the game. Everything on my back side [hurts], mainly my lower back.

"I hit the back of my head, but it wasn't as bad as my back. I can't sit out; all contributions are needed. It's all hands on deck right now."

The absence of West was big, as the Celtics' injury list grows with almost every game. They were again without Paul Pierce (stress reaction, left foot), Wally Szczerbiak (sprained right ankle) and Kendrick Perkins (left foot, plantar fasciitis).

Before going down, West was leading the Celtics in scoring (11 points) and overall intensity. Since Rivers inserted West into the starting lineup because he plays better defense than Sebastian Telfair, it seemed only appropriate that he was injured trying to make a defensive play.

With Tony Allen and Telfair picking up their fourth fouls in the third quarter, Al Jefferson picking up his fifth in the same quarter, and Gerald Green picking up his fifth in the fourth, Boston was ultimately too depleted to compete.

"The early foul trouble killed us," said Rivers. "I thought that, more than anything, hurt us early."

And it limited Boston late. Denver stretched its lead to a game-high 16 late in the third quarter and early in the fourth. Which gave Iverson plenty of time to savor the win and the Celtics time to wonder what might have been.

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.

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