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NUGGETS 100, CELTICS 99

At end, Nuggets golden

Anthony hits winner with 3.6 seconds left

Are these guys ever going to have a game that doesn't come down to the last possession? It seems that, if nothing else, the Celtics give you 48 minutes worth. Sometimes more.

Last night was no exception. For the fourth time in the last five games, this one went down to the proverbial wire. This time, on a night when fatigue played a big role for both teams, it was the Denver Nuggets who got the last shot, the last laugh, and a rare win against the Celtics. But it wasn't secured until Paul Pierce's 21-footer at the buzzer was a shade long.

The result was a 100-99 Denver victory, only the second time the Nuggets have beaten Boston in the last 12 meetings. It also was just the second victory in Boston by a Denver team since 1990-91 -- the other was against the 15-67 juggernaut from 1996-97 -- and fans in Boston don't have to be told that the last 13 years haven't exactly been the glory days around here.

It looked for a few moments as if the Celtics' streak might continue and that Doc Rivers's lads, still a bit weary from a West Coast trip and a flight home that took longer than a Calvinist sermon, would ultimately prevail. Pierce knocked down two free throws with 10.7 seconds to play, giving Boston a 99-98 lead. One stop would do it.

Alas, stops were a problem all night, as the Nuggets shot 48 percent and saw few hands in their faces. "I thought our defense let us down," Rivers said. "On a scale of 1-10, we were probably a 3 on offense. And we still scored 99 points. We lost because of defense."

The final Denver foray resulted in a Boston booboo. Carmelo Anthony (25 points, 10 rebounds) came off a Kenyon Martin pick some 19 feet from the basket. Normal Celtics protocol calls for Martin's guy, in this case, Mark Blount, to pop out and trap Anthony. Blount didn't do it.

"I couldn't believe how wide open I was," said Anthony, who was 8 for 20 from the field. "All night they were double-teaming me and sending everyone at me."

Not this time. Said Pierce, "When a guy like that comes off a pick, you've got to get some help. There was some miscommunication and he gets a wide-open shot." Anthony drained the jumper with 3.6 seconds left and now it was Denver's turn to get a stop. Pierce was hounded on the perimeter by Andre Miller, but got off a serviceable shot. He's made tougher ones.

"I just missed it," shrugged Pierce, who led all scorers with 31 points. But he was 0 for 4 in the fourth quarter, missed his last five shots, and didn't have a field goal in the final 16:33. Ricky Davis had 13 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter.

The Celtics have now had eight games decided by 3 points or fewer, the most in the NBA. That can either be looked at positively (necessary growing pains for a young squad) or negatively (inability to close games). In truth, it's probably somewhere in between.

"Guys still aren't comfortable with each other," Davis said. "And we probably won't be comfortable with each other until the end of the year. We have to keep fighting, keep learning. Everyone is trying.

"I don't know what it is," he continued, when asked to elaborate. "I can't figure it out. Everyone has bad habits. We've got to get everyone to break the bad habits, from coaches to players to equipment guys. The faster we can break the bad habits, the better we'll be."

While Rivers publicly disputes Davis's overview -- "They're starting to get a feel for each other," he said of his players -- it was clear that there were plenty of bad somethings out there. The Celtics had one particularly odious stretch in the second quarter when they missed 11 straight shots and added four turnovers for good measure. But Denver, on a tough road trip and having played (and lost) the night before, was only marginally better. The Nuggets used a 13-0 run during the Boston drought to take a 48-41 lead at the half. The Celtics got the lead back in the third, then gave it up when Anthony scored 8 points, making it 77-73, Denver, after three.

The fourth was nail-biting time. There were eight lead changes and three ties. Some truly witless fans actually started to leave the FleetCenter with the Celtics down by 5 with 2:46 to play. What were those people thinking? They missed Miller (an 87 percent free throw shooter) boing two big ones and Davis trigger a 6-0 run to give Boston its last lead. They missed a dumb foul by Anthony and a stupid turnover by Martin, who still had 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 blocks.

And they missed Anthony's winner and Pierce's backbreaking buzzer-beating miss.

"We just couldn't get the key stop," Rivers lamented.

He could have been talking about Golden State or Portland, too. Or Philadelphia or Indiana. Say this about these guys: They keep it going until there's no place left to go and no more time to get there. 

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