Nuggets 114, Celtics 105

The Denver Nuggets are building an impressive record against the

NBA’s elite teams.

J.R. Smith scored 16 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and

the Nuggets recovered from blowing an early 20-point lead to beat

the Boston Celtics 114-105 Sunday.

Chauncey Billups had 26 points and Carmelo Anthony had 23 for

the Nuggets, who improved to 4-0 against the top three teams in the

Eastern Conference. They’ve beaten Cleveland twice and Orlando and

Boston once each this season.

“We’re still inconsistent at times,” said Nuggets forward

Kenyon Martin, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds. “If we can lock

in and just do the stuff we can do and learn from the mistakes we

make, that can go a long way.”

Said Anthony, “We’re just playing good basketball, that’s it.

We’ll let you all decide if you consider us one of the top

teams.”

The inconsistency Martin cited in the play of the Nuggets was

evident against the Celtics, who rallied from 20 points down in the

first quarter to tie the game at 66 in the third before fading down

the stretch.

“They’re right there,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said when

asked to size up the Nuggets. “We knew that before the year

started. They’re just as good as anybody else. They can win it all.

We can win it all. All those teams, but you don’t get a trophy for

the regular season.”

Ray Allen had 25 points and Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and

Marquis Daniels added 15 points each for the Celtics, who lost for

the first time in their last four road games. They remain an

NBA-best 20-10 away from home.

“When you get down by 20 against one of the top tier teams,

it’s always tough to come back in their building,” said Paul

Pierce, who had just 5 points on 2-for-10 shooting that was

affected by a sore thumb.

“But I’m happy with the road trip for the most part. I feel

like we’re headed in the right direction. We’d like to have gotten

all four wins, but we didn’t. Now we have to start establishing

ourselves at home and play better.”

After Boston fell behind big early, Daniels made a lay up

following a three-point play by Allen that made the score 66-66

with just under 5 minutes to play in the third.

From there, the Nuggets scored 16 of the next 24 points,

culminating with Martin’s rim-shaking dunk to take an 82-73 lead

into the fourth quarter.

“A team like the Celtics, we know they’re going to make shots,

make runs throughout the game and that’s what they did,” Anthony

said. “We gathered together as a team and said let’s not get

rattled.”

Smith helped make sure the Nuggets didn’t fall apart. He began

the final period by hitting a 3-pointer and nailed another with

7:50 left to put Denver in front 92-80. He hit two more 3s in the

period, skipping back down the court after his fourth came with

4:31 remaining to rebuild the Nuggets’ lead to 105-88.

Boston managed to get back within 107-97 on Ray Allen’s

3-pointer with 2:29 remaining but Anthony answered with a 3-pointer

with 1:35 left to give the Nuggets all the cushion they needed.

Notes: A huge get well card for Nuggets coach George Karl, who

disclosed last Tuesday he was battling neck and throat cancer, was

unfurled at the Pepsi Center atrium to allow fans to express their

best wishes. … Anthony surpassed 12,000 career points on his

first basket, an 18-foot jumper, 3:41 into the game. He now has

12,022 point and ranks as the Nuggets third-leading scorer in

franchise history. … Boston lost to a Northwest Division team for

the first time in seven games this season. … Both teams struggled

from the free throw line with the Celtics hitting 13 of 24 (54.2

percent) and the Nuggets making 25 of 40 (62.5 percent). …

Anthony and Billups were a combined 18 of 19 in free throws while

the rest of the Nuggets were a collective 7 of 21.