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Nuggets 98, Celtics 91

Celtics harried by Faried

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By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / March 18, 2012
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DENVER – The Celtics were savvy enough to not let Saturday’s game with the Denver Nuggets get out of hand.

They were precise enough to get stops while Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett drained jumpers for a late comeback.

What burned them in a 98-91 loss was the season-long issue of rebounding.

The league’s worst rebounding team was practically outdone by one man, rookie Kenneth Faried, who wowed college basketball observers this time last year with his menacing rebounding for Morehead State.

In just 23 minutes 36 seconds against the Celtics, Faried scored 18 points and chased down 16 rebounds, including several down the stretch, thwarting the Celtics’ furious rally.

Faried drained six free throws in the final 3:51 and Pierce fouled out after clipping him on an offensive rebound.

Finally, when the Celtics desperately needed a stop, Denver’s Ty Lawson buried a 3-pointer in the corner for a 92-87 lead with three minutes left.

Trailing by 3 with just under a minute left, the Celtics were unable to spring open Ray Allen and Brandon Bass had to settle for a 18-footer that missed.

An inspired fourth-quarter effort was wasted, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers was encouraged by the resurgence and enraged that it didn’t occur until the fourth quarter.

“Like I told them, you can’t ease yourself into a game and then decide to join the war in the third and fourth quarter,’’ said Rivers, whose team trailed by 12 after three quarters. “You could see us, we’re a different team in the fourth quarter, we played with spirit and fight, that’s how we’ve been playing. That’s who we are. I was a little upset after the game because we can’t show up and play that way and then turn it on.’’

It was a particularly difficult night for Bass, who was bested by Faried and finished with 6 points and two rebounds in 28 minutes. The Celtics were outrebounded, 46-27, and the key was Faried, whose athleticism and passion for loose balls overwhelmed the aging Celtics.

“What bothered me today was a lot of rebounds were [balls] on the floor,’’ Rivers said. “That had nothing to do with size. We got outworked. That’s what bothered me.’’

“Outworked’’ was a theme in the locker room. While Faried could eventually emerge as one of the game’s top rebounders, most of his boards came from hustle. In one play, he beat three Celtics to a ball near the sideline to preserve a possession. He had played in just 24 of Denver’s previous 44 games and averaged nearly seven rebounds in 19 minutes per game.

“It was just simple, we really just got outworked tonight,’’ said Pierce, who led the Celtics with 22 points along with Garnett. “It wasn’t anything about game-planning or X’s and O’s. They got the loose balls. They got the offensive rebounds. I hate for it even to come out of my mouth. I pride myself on a lot of hard work and instilling it in this team. For me to come here and say that’s what happened tonight hurts for me to even say that.’’

The Celtics began making shots in the third quarter, but the problem was they could do nothing to stop the Nuggets from going to the free throw line.

Bass sank two free throws to reduce the deficit to 56-47 with 11:01 left in the period, but Denver then scored the next 6 points, all on layups.

Arron Afflalo streaked to the basket with no Celtic even offering resistance twice and Faried followed with another score off a pass from center Timofey Mozgov. Each time the Celtics attempted to mount a rally, the Nuggets responded with a bigger surge.

A 7-0 run capped by a Danilo Gallinari jumper extended the lead to 72-56 with 6:35 left and the lead grew to 17 before Boston finally began using Avery Bradley to pressure the ball handler and getting stops.

The Celtics ended the quarter on an 8-3 run to draw to within 12, but they would need even more stops in the fourth quarter. And that never happened.

Denver’s game plan was to run at every opportunity and there’s not more of a fast-break instigator than the turnover. On three consecutive trips down the floor the Celtics botched plays and turned over the ball, leading to consecutive fast-break scores from Corey Brewer, followed by a layup from Al Harrington, who saw an open lane down the baseline, and cashed in.

The 7-0 Denver run left the Celtics trailing, 38-27, and they weren’t consistent enough offensively to mount any type of significant rally.

The main culprit was forward Bass, who missed all four of his shots and collected just one rebound in more than 13 first-half minutes.

And the defense was even worse. In one sequence, veteran Keyon Dooling got beat off the dribble by ageless Andre Miller for a layup. Dooling was soon removed from the game. Marquis Daniels made a rare appearance and scored 5 straight points to reduce the Denver lead to 40-34 with less than five minutes left.

But the Celtics were unable to feed off Daniels’s surge as they allowed an 8-2 run, 6 off those points by Faried, including two layups off offensive rebounds.

After another turnover, Gallinari danced down the baseline to avoid going out of bounds and then flipped a no-look behind-the-back pass to Faried for an easy layup.

Faried caught everything thrown his way Saturday.

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