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Nuggets 89, Celtics 75

Celtics come up short

Lacking depth, they let Nuggets escape

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / February 25, 2011

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DENVER — Doc Rivers was wearing a headset talking into a dark blue Pepsi Center wall outside of the visiting locker room, complaining about the same thing he was complaining about the year before.

“I have no juice!’’ he said.

The Celtics had just traded five players: Their ever-frowning starting center Kendrick Perkins, their energy-drink backup guard Nate Robinson, rookies Luke Harangody and Semih Erden, and Marquis Daniels, who has been out since Feb. 6 with a spinal cord injury. It will be a couple days before they got any of their imports.

And with Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal both injured, it meant the team had only eight players available to face the Nuggets last night, who had done some trade deadline roster remodeling themselves.

Scratch that. Nine.

The Celtics called up Chris Johnson from the Dakota Wizards of the Development League. He was wearing Erden’s jersey number (86). The trades were so fresh it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if Erden’s name was still on it, too.

“For 10 years, I’ve said you shouldn’t play on the trade deadline days,’’ Rivers said. “It should be on the All-Star break, because things like this happen where you can’t get enough guys. I don’t know why, but it is what it is and we have to play.’’

Low on manpower, the Celtics ultimately ran out of fuel, falling to the Nuggets, 89-75.

With the Celtics gassed in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets went on a 14-0 run, putting the Celtics away. Kenyon Martin came up with two key plays, stripping the ball from Ray Allen on the wing, then giving it to Ty Lawson, who found Arron Afflalo for a fastbreak layup and foul that made it 84-75. Martin then hit a 22-footer that made it 86-75.

Pierce was uncharacteristically inefficient, scoring 17 points on 7-of-18 shooting. Allen struggled, missing 4 of 5 3-pointers, going for 10 points. Not even nine minutes into the game, when Rivers sent Johnson and Delonte West into the game for Allen and Glen Davis, the coach had emptied his bench.

“I wasn’t real happy with what we ran down the stretch of the game,’’ Rivers said. “We walked into a few of our sets and that might have been because of fatigue.’’

In terms of ugliness, the game was up there, particularly in the second quarter, when the teams combined to shoot 11 for 33.

In the first half alone, the minutes were off the charts. Rajon Rondo played 21, Kevin Garnett 20. The only thing that spared Allen (17 minutes) and Pierce (7) were their five combined fouls. When the Celtics walked off the floor down, 37-36, at the half, Davis didn’t sprint to the locker room. He had clocked more than 19 minutes, breathing hard as he stepped slowly toward the tunnel.

“I wasn’t worried,’’ Rivers said. “I was trying to win the game still. It was our pace. I liked the pace at halftime, low-scoring game. Our whole thing was try to keep it close and see if we could win it at the end. We did that and we couldn’t get anything going at the end.

“I thought maybe we ran out of gas, but I didn’t think our focus was bad. Paul [Pierce] getting into foul trouble hurt us, threw him out of rhythm — one of the things we couldn’t do.’’

The Nuggets had been there, playing shorthanded against the Memphis Grizzlies after dealing Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks along with several of their recognizable pieces.

The Knicks they acquired in return — Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, and Timofey Mozgov — had arrived and all but Mozgov was put to work immediately, albeit ineffectively.

Gallinari missed his first four shots, Felton started 0 for 3, Chandler scored 6 first-half points off the bench, and the Nuggets looked like a team trying to figure out where the pieces fit.

The second unit the Celtics envisioned coming into this season never came to fruition, so now they’ll work in Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to a bench that has 26 games until the playoffs to find an identity.

“It’s tough always trying to make changes and adjust to the players on the court for the second unit,’’ said Davis. “It’s just something we’re going to have to deal with.’’

Davis, who has been the bench’s most consistent piece (he hasn’t missed a game this season), said he’ll have to take on some responsibility in getting the new reserves to mesh.

“As a player, you’ve got to be responsible for your own stuff, but at the same time, when you’re in a situation like me, you’re the only semblance of a first-teamer,’’ Davis said. “You’re the only guy, at the end of the game, from the second team on the floor. You’ve just got to try to apply the system and how the first team does things to the second team.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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