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NUGGETS 107, CELTICS 86

Nuggets golden in rout of Celtics

DENVER -- Maybe it was better Doc Rivers watched the second half last night from the relative comfort of the visitors' locker room at the Pepsi Center after receiving his first ejection of the season, for arguing a call against Kendrick Perkins. If Rivers found the first half tough to stomach, there is no telling what he would have done courtside during the third and fourth quarters as the Nuggets trounced the Celtics, 107-86.

Boston played without urgency or energy from start to finish. Just when the Celtics expected to be surging toward the postseason, they look like a team lost.

"I was just trying to do anything to get us to act like we actually had a game tonight," said Rivers. "They were more physical. They were tougher. I thought we played soft the whole game.

"It was ridiculous that Perk got a tech. But honestly, the refs had nothing to do with why we lost. Denver kicked our butt in every way. They came to play and they came to play hard. We played [Tuesday] night, but that shouldn't be an excuse. It was disappointing effort by us."

Suffice it to say, nothing went Boston's way. For example, DerMarr Johnson hit a 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds remaining in the third quarter to give the Nuggets a 94-67 advantage. Then Jiri Welsch bounced the ball out of bounds off the heel of Ricky Davis as the Celtics tried to start a fast break early in the fourth quarter. Enough said about the second half.

Boston dropped a game below .500 and into a first-place tie with Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division.

If the second half of the season continues this way, the Celtics could easily find themselves without a playoff berth. If the Celtics had played this poorly a week or two ago, executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge might have looked more closely at making a move before this afternoon's 3 o'clock trading deadline. But the team that has dropped two games to start this four-game trip looks as if it will be the team that finishes the season. For better or worse.

"We're not getting anybody in a rhythm," said Gary Payton. "Everybody's taking shots that they don't need to be taking. People have got to make other people better and we're not doing that."

Rivers was ejected at halftime as the Celtics picked up four technicals in the final 0.3 seconds before intermission. It started when Perkins received a technical for an elbow on Kenyon Martin. Then Payton picked up a T for arguing the call. Rivers went to the other end of the court to complain and earned his first technical. Rivers then kept talking, and referee David Jones ejected him.

When asked what he told Jones to warrant an ejection, Rivers said, "Not enough. But I think they were waiting. I've earned them before. I didn't think I earned that one. I just think they wanted to throw somebody [out]. The one ref [Jones] was looking to give techs."

Rivers rode the officials throughout the first half, hoping his intensity would inspire his players. The strategy did not work as Boston trailed, 57-44, at halftime. The fouls shots resulting from the technicals allowed the home team to enter intermission with its largest lead of the half.

"I was more trying to get the players going than get on the refs," said Rivers. "It's funny. I thought [referee] Bennett Salvatore saw that. He's a veteran ref. I thought he understood exactly what was going on. But honestly, if that's what you have to do to get guys to play, you're probably going to lose that game anyway."

The Celtics were struggling with the referees, with rebounding, with shooting, and with ball movement before halftime. Denver made more than three times as many trips to foul line (28-9). With Martin and Marcus Camby leading the way, the Nuggets outrebounded the Celtics, 28-19.

Early in the second quarter, Boston closed within 4 points (31-27) with a 6-footer by Delonte West on the break. But that was one of the few bright spots for the Celtics. A 9-2 run by Denver gave the home team a 40-29 lead with 5:38 remaining in the quarter. The Celtics failed to answer the Nuggets' run, then started to fall apart late in the half.

After Boston sprinted to a 6-0 lead, Denver staged a 23-8 run capped by a Camby-to-Martin alley-oop dunk with 3:58 left in the first. The basket produced the Nuggets' largest lead of the quarter, 23-14.

But Boston chipped away at its deficit and closed within 2 points (23-21) on a pair of baskets by West, who has moved into the backup point guard role. The Nuggets closed the first quarter with a 6-0 run that pushed them ahead, 29-21. The final field goal of the period was particularly demoralizing as Andre Miller went into for a layup with 0.2 seconds left.

"They just kicked our [expletive]," said Paul Pierce. "Straight up. Frustration set in on us and we never regrouped."

IN TODAY'S GLOBE
 CELTICS 120, SUNS 113: Celtics shine vs. Suns
 CELTICS NOTEBOOK: McCarty loves Phoenix
 NBA ROUNDUP: Best effort aids Nets
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