Celtics get quick start, beat Nuggets 106-98

Kris Humphries didn’t play 20 minutes in a game for the whole

month of November. Five times this season he never got off the

bench at all.

He hadn’t scored in double digits in the first 20 games before

contributing 18 to the Boston Celtics’ 106-98 victory over the

Denver Nuggets on Friday night.

And one more thing: He never complained.

”When we’re winning and stuff, I don’t like to focus on me,”

Humphries said after the Celtics ran off the first 14 points to win

their second straight game and maintain their awkward hold on the

Atlantic Division lead. ”We’re at the top of the division. That’s

all that’s important.”

Jordan Crawford had 22 points and eight assists and Avery

Bradley scored 18 for Boston, which has a 9-12 record that would

rank no better than fifth in any division in the Western

Conference. Humphries scored eight points in the last 4 1/2 minutes

of the third quarter, when Boston turned back a Denver run that cut

the deficit to three points.

”Our starters played fantastic at the start of the game and got

us out to a huge lead. In the second half it was our bench that got

us back out to the lead,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. ”Kris

was a big part of that.”

A nine-year veteran who came to Boston in the trade that sent

Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets, Humphries has struggled

to find a role on a young, rebuilding team. He has gotten more time

since an ankle injury to Kelly Olynyk has kept the first-round

draft pick out since Nov. 23.

”He’s done a good job for us,” Stevens said. ”I think that

speaks to his professionalism, too, because this hasn’t always been

easy for him. But he’s been a pro about everything.”

Ty Lawson scored 20 points before leaving late in the third

quarter with a left hamstring injury, and J.J. Hickson had 17 for

Denver. The Nuggets had won seven straight games but have now lost

two in a row to Cleveland and Boston, two Eastern Conference teams

that were at or below a .400 winning percentage.

”Second consecutive game in a row that we basically got beat

up, got hit first,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said. ”We told our

team before the game started tonight that regardless of their

record, they’re going to come out and fight to stay in first place.

And they did that.”

The Celtics opened the game with a 14-0 run, getting six of

Bradley’s 13 first-quarter points in the first 4 minutes, before

Hickson made one of two free throws with 7:20 left for Denver’s

first point. Boston expanded the lead to 24 by scoring 12 of the

last 13 points in the quarter, including a 30-foot 3-pointer by

Crawford just before the buzzer.

In all, Denver shot 23.8 percent in the first, getting just two

baskets from the starters, while falling behind 39-15. Boston shot

65.4 percent to match a season high for points in a quarter it set

in the fourth during Tuesday night’s victory over Milwaukee; the

Celtics topped their season high for a half, taking a 64-44 lead

into the break.

The Nuggets scored the first nine points of the second half –

six from Hickson – during a 16-2 run that made it 66-60 with 8:38

left in the third. They eventually cut it to three points before

Humphries made a pair of baskets and Bradley hit a 3 to make it

83-73 with just more than 2 minutes left in the quarter.

NOTES: Before the game, the Celtics observed a moment of silence

for South African president Nelson Mandela, calling him ”a friend

of the NBA.” … Nuggets guard Nate Robinson, a member of the

Celtics when they made the NBA Finals in 2010, got a smattering of

applause when he came off the bench in the first quarter. … With

the back-to-back losses, Denver fell to 5-2 against the East.