C's Start Second Half with a Dud


C's Start Second Half with a Dud

DENVER - Even with Kevin Garnett back on the floor, the Celtics' dominance against the Western Conference came to an end last night.

The Celtics were defeated by a West team for the first time this season, sustaining a 124-118 loss to Denver in front a sold-out crowd of 19,894 at the Pepsi Center - the largest regular-season crowd in Nuggets history.

The Celtics (41-10) are now 16-1 against the West, including a 5-1 road mark. Boston's five-game winning streak also came to an end, as they became the last NBA team to reach 10 losses and gave up a season-high in points.

Garnett was rusty in his return from an abdominal strain that caused him to miss nine games. He had 4 points on 2-of-7 shooting and 8 rebounds in 21 minutes.

Paul Pierce had a team-high 24 points while Rajon Rondo had 22 and Ray Allen added 20. Denver's Carmelo Anthony led all scorers with 29, and Allen Iverson had 28. Marcus Camby grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked 9 shots.

Garnett went through a strenuous workout Sunday in New Orleans, had a solid practice here Monday, and got the OK from coach Doc Rivers and trainer Ed Lacerte after shootaround yesterday.

"He practiced Sunday. He practiced yesterday. He really had no residual effect," Rivers said. "I asked Eddie, 'Yea or nay?' He said yea, but he's more worried about conditioning, him getting tired and that leading to straining and furthering the injury."

Although Garnett seemed to get stripped in the post by Kenyon Martin with 7:22 left in the first quarter, the house statistician called it his first shot of the game. He then missed a jumper with 6:53 left in the first. And with the Celtics down, 17-9, and 6:23 left in the first, Rivers called timeout and Garnett went to the bench. He didn't return in the first quarter.

The Nuggets owned a 36-31 lead after one, shooting 52.1 percent and making 13 of 17 free throws.

With Garnett still on the bench, the Celtics tied the score at 44 on a lay-in by Pierce with 6:57 left in the half. Two free throws by Glen Davis with 6:05 remaining gave Boston its first lead at 46-44. With Garnett still sitting, Tony Allen's 3-point play gave the Celtics a 51-46 left with 5:06 left.

With Garnett waiting to get back in, the Nuggets responded with an 11-6 run, including 6 points by Anthony, to take the lead back at 57-56. Garnett returned with 2:23 remaining in the half.

Rondo raced down the court in time to throw in a running lay-in with 0.9 seconds remaining in the half to tie the game at 62. Rondo also got fouled on the play by Denver's Eduardo Najera but missed the free throw.

The Celtics shot 37.5 percent in the first half and made 6 of 16 from 3-point range. The Nuggets shot 50 percent and received 18 points from Anthony. Garnett was scoreless in the half on 0-of-2 shooting and had 1 rebound in 8 minutes.

The Celtics went to Garnett immediately when the third quarter started. Camby, however, stole the ball when Garnett tried to make an offensive move. Garnett finally hit his first shot, a jumper, with 11:07 left in the third quarter to tie the game at 64.

The Nuggets used an 11-0 run - finalized by an Anthony 3-pointer - to go ahead, 75-66. The Celtics responded with a 7-0 run to slice Denver's lead to 75-73 on a Pierce lay-in. With Denver up, 79-73, and 5:14 left in the third, Garnett returned to the bench. The Nuggets finished the quarter with an 88-84 lead.

After a steal and lay-in by Allen with 10:48 left in the fourth quarter, the Celtics tied the game at 88. Nuggets reserve forward Linas Kleiza, who suffered a sprained left ankle in the second quarter, nailed two straight 3-pointers to give Denver a 101-91 lead.

Garnett returned with 6:19 remaining and Boston down, 101-93. A Pierce 3-pointer trimmed the deficit to 103-97 with 5:48 remaining. With 4:37 remaining, Pierce dunked on Camby and Martin and got the foul. After the free throw, Boston was down, 105-100.

Rondo followed with a nasty two-handed dunk with 4:12 remaining to slice the deficit to 105-102. Garnett's putback dunk brought Boston within 105-104 with 3:35 remaining.

Garnett, however, was called for goaltending on Martin with 3:16 left and Denver went up, 107-104. Camby's third 3-pointer of the season gave the Nuggets a 111-104 lead with 2:19 remaining. Iverson's 3-pointer with 1:23 left gave Denver a 115-107 lead. A 3-pointer by Eddie House trimmed Boston's deficit to 119-115 with 23 seconds remaining.

Allen was credited with a 3-pointer on a debatable goaltending by Anthony with 13.7 seconds left that brought Boston within 121-118. But Anthony nailed two free throws with 11.5 seconds left to seal the win.

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