Nuggets 114, Celtics 105

Rocky finish to Celtics' trip

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / February 22, 2010

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DENVER - As NBA teams go, the Denver Nuggets are pretty transparent. They shoot the ball a ton, therefore they score a ton, and if you somehow can match them basket for basket - keeping in mind that they may make 40 or 45 a night - so be it.

So when they came out yesterday and fired shots at the Celtics in a barrage that brought to mind a flurry of Manny Pacquiao punches, there was nothing surprising about it.

“You ever been in a fight?’’ Boston forward Kevin Garnett asked, starting the analogy he hoped somehow would explain Denver’s offensive binge in the first quarter of the Nuggets’ 114-105 victory at the Pepsi Center. “If you can withstand the first blow - hopefully it ain’t a Kimbo Slice blow - you withstand it, you take it, and you keep throwing punches and hopefully something will happen.’’

From their length-of-the-court passes to their highlight-reel dunks, to their 16 makes in 22 shot attempts, the Nuggets’ 37-point first quarter was the equivalent of Slice on YouTube shirtless in a backyard dealing body blows.

“Very, very much so,’’ Garnett confirmed.

By the end of the quarter the Celtics were trailing, 37-19, and everything about the light-up-the-scoreboard Nuggets was as advertised.

They have a soundtrack for every made basket, and by the time the game was over they had exhausted an entire iTunes library, starting at Gwen Stefani and ultimately having to dig up some MC Hammer, after the Nuggets completed a 40-for-78 day from the floor (51.3 percent).

They put five players in double figures, including Chauncey Billups, who scored 26 points to go with seven assists, and Carmelo Anthony, who had 23 points and eight dimes. Denver’s sixth man, J.R. Smith, took more shots than anyone on the Celtics.

Entering the game the Nuggets were 21-0 when they scored more than 110 points, and when Anthony drained a three from in front of the Celtics bench with 1:35 left, the Celtics became victim No. 22.

“That’s what we talked about, especially when you come into Denver, where they play their best basketball and they score the most points - it’s difficult,’’ said Celtics forward Paul Pierce. “When you’re down by 20 against the top-tier teams, it’s always hard to come back, especially when you’re in their building.’’

That said, the Celtics withstood the blows as much as they could.

With Pierce going 2 for 10 from the floor, the Celtics got another lights-out performance from a post-trade deadline Ray Allen, who went for 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Garnett hit double digits with a 15-point, five-rebound effort.

But it was their second unit that helped fight out of a hole as deep as 20 points, tying it at 66 on a Marquis Daniels layup with five minutes left in the third quarter. The Celtics had 31 bench points, sparked by Daniels’s 15.

But, coach Doc Rivers said, “Even after the score’s tied, you’ve been trying so hard to get back in the game you run out of gas.’’

One could almost sense the Celtics were on fumes after that tying Daniels layup. They missed seven of their last 10 shots of the quarter and went into the fourth trailing, 82-73.

Smith, who had just 3 points entering the fourth, came out and drilled a 3-pointer that put the Celtics down 12. Never one to pass up a shot, Smith knocked down 5 of his 9 fourth-quarter attempts, body blows the Celtics, still without Nate Robinson, couldn’t respond to.

“You’ve got to put out a lot of energy,’’ Daniels said. “It’s a very tough game. You can’t dig a hole for yourself. They’re a great team. We just had to fight it out. We just dug ourselves a hole too deep and had to put out a lot of energy.’’

Before the Celtics set out for the West Coast, Rivers told his team he wanted to see if it could sweep all four games on the trip. After wins over the Kings, Lakers, and Blazers, the Nuggets spoiled the plan but clawing back to lose by only single digits took away some of the sting.

“We know we’re playing better basketball,’’ said Pierce. “And except for one or two quarters [yesterday], I’m happy with the way we fought.’’

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