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CELTICS 116, NUGGETS 111

Celtics survive, thrive

A lot is overcome in beating Denver

DENVER -- The factors contributing to the adversity the Celtics faced last night seemed too numerous for a mere regular-season game.

As if attempting to rebound from blowing a 29-point lead to the Phoenix Suns Friday night wasn't enough, the Celtics had to endure a nearly 24-hour travel delay because of the snowstorm that hit New England.

In addition, Boston was playing one of the hottest teams in the NBA in the Denver Nuggets.

But after arriving at the Pepsi Center four hours before tipoff, the Celtics gave what may have been their signature effort of the young season. They built a comfortable first-half cushion and withstood a late Nuggets rally to hold on for a 116-111 win.

Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 33 points, Eric Williams added 21, and Jiri Welsch had 19. Boston improved to 8-12, halted the Nuggets' six-game winning streak, and became only the second team in 11 games to defeat Denver on its home floor.

"It feels good, I'm not going to lie," said Welsch, whose total was a career-high. "It's important, not only because of the last game we lost to Phoenix, but also because of the last five or six games that we were leading then lost the game."

"It means a lot, because they're a tough ballclub and Denver is a difficult place to win," Celtics coach Jim O'Brien said.

The Celtics, who expected smoother sailing on their overnight trip to Utah for tonight's game against the Jazz, shot a solid .500 (42 for 84) and were able to counter every Denver surge with one of their own.

After a reverse dunk by Nuggets rookie Carmelo Anthony tied the score at 96 in the fourth quarter, the Celtics scored the next 6 points and never again trailed. A Pierce 3-pointer from the left wing was the key shot in the run.

"I was just taking it upon myself, whether it was putting it in the basket or getting it to someone else," Pierce said.

A putback by Mark Blount with 1:06 left gave Boston a 109-102 lead. Denver trimmed it to 113-111 in the final minute, but two foul shots by Mike James and one by Pierce finished it. Reserve Rodney White led Denver with 23 points while Voshon Lenard added 20 and Anthony 17.

Used to be, escaping Denver with a win was not only expected, but perhaps a reason for a closed-door meeting if it did not happen. But this year's Nuggets squad is much different from its recent predecessors, with Anthony doing his part to reinvigorate what had become the NBA equivalent of Siberia.

The Nuggets entered the game in first place of the Midwest Division for the first time since Dec. 5, 1989 and averaging 13 points more than their paltry 84.5 a game last season.

"I'm not surprised, but to the extent of them being in first place, I am surprised," said Williams, a former Nugget who played perhaps his best game of the season. "But they have good players here. I didn't know they were going to jell the way they did."

The Celtics burst to a 32-21 lead after the first quarter, as Denver missed seven of 10 free throws in the period. If Boston showed any signs of fatigue, it was in the first few minutes. The Celtics grabbed only one of the game's first nine rebounds and allowed center Marcus Camby to score Denver's first 8 points. Camby entered the game averaging only 4.9.

Boston concluded the first quarter with a 17-5 run, and held a 62-53 advantage at the half.

Starting forward Vin Baker did not play in the second half because of a chest cold. He scored 8 points of 4-for-4 shooting in 14 minutes.

in today's globe
 CELTICS 116, NUGGETS 111: Celtics survive, thrive
 CELTICS NOTEBOOK: Travel snarled by snowstorm
 NBA ROUNDUP: Lakers win, by George
last game
Last game / Sun. at Denver
Celtics
116
Nuggets
111
 Box score         Game log
 
Next game
Monday at Utah, 9 p.m.
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atlantic div. standings
  W L Pct. GB
Philadelphia 11 10 .524 --
New Jersey 9 11 .450 1.5
Boston 8 12 .400 2.5
Washington 7 12 .368 3.0
New York 7 14 .333 4.0
Miami 5 15 .250 5.5
Orlando 1 19 .050 9.5
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