7:00 PM ET, January 2, 2006
Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
DENVER (AP) -- Scribbled across the top of the locker room grease board was George Karl's latest declaration: "2006, the year of the Nuggets."
"It's my Chinese fortune cookie," Denver's coach said after the Nuggets' 120-110 win over Boston on Monday night. "The year of the rabbit. The year of the cat. It's the year of the Nuggets.
"Forget about last year."
So far, so good.
Kenyon Martin scored 24 points and Carmelo Anthony added 23 as Denver snapped a three-game skid. Andre Miller had 20 points and 14 assists to helped the Nuggets win at the Pepsi Center for the first time since Dec. 23.
Forgotten for a moment was their injury woes, which had sent them tumbling to seven losses in nine games, including three straight at home, to close out 2005.
"I think everybody wants to start off the new year on a good note," Miller said. "At least we started it off with a win."
Paul Pierce led Boston with 29 points before fouling out. Delonte West added a career-high 20. Ricky Davis managed just nine points, 13 below his average, on 3-of-16 shooting, and the Celtics closed their Western trip 1-4.
"The difference was I thought some of our guys came with great effort. And I thought some of our guys had their luggage, in their minds, already on the plane," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "That was the fear before the game. It was a long trip for some of our guys. I was worried about it before the game started and my concern was realized.
"A few competed. More didn't and the  turnovers killed us. Some of our shot selection killed us, too. Take bad shots and that allowed them to run."
The Nuggets, who had 25 points in transition, led by 15 in the third quarter and built that advantage to 23 on Earl Boykins' steal and reverse layup early in the fourth quarter, a time in which they have had a propensity to fade as injuries have depleted their frontcourt and fatigue began to set in.
Ten times this season they have blown a fourth-quarter lead in a loss, but this one was too big for even the Nuggets to fritter away.
"We should have put them away a little earlier than we did," Anthony said. "They stuck around in the fourth quarter for a little bit, I'm just glad we got the win."
Miller sank all 12 of his free throws and all of Denver's starters scored in double figures with Boykins chipping in 18 points off the bench.
Still, Karl wasn't pleased with the way the Nuggets relaxed in the closing minutes.
"That was disappointing because I thought we needed a confidence-booster, a little bit of growth of maturity and mental toughness and I didn't think we did a very good job the last seven, eight minutes of the game," he said.
Denver opened the third quarter with an 11-4 run to stretch a five-point halftime lead to 69-57. After a 3-pointer by Pierce pulled the Celtics to 76-70, the Nuggets closed the third quarter on a 23-8 run that included seven points from Martin, who good-naturedly jawed with Rivers all night.
It's been a while since Martin, who has missed 10 games with a balky knee and bruised thigh, has smiled so much on the court.
"It was cool. We just went out there and made shots. We did some things tonight that we didn't do ... in the previous three games," Martin said.
"Maybe we can keep this thing going. I'm not going to get too excited about it. I am just going to work on my game and keep doing what I am doing."
The Nuggets had hoped to use this stretch of eight of nine games at home to climb back above .500, but injuries to their frontcourt, including one that has knocked Marcus Camby (finger) out indefinitely last week, resulted in a prolonged funk they hope they've put behind them, like the miserable memories of December.
"We can build some confidence and we can build off the way we played in the first three quarters," Anthony said. "We ran pretty well tonight. Maybe not as well as we wanted to, but we ran pretty well. Next game we can go out and try to do a couple of more things than we did."
Official Jack Nies had a front-row fan removed from the game in the first half. "He was verbally abusive and he was using a lot of profanity," Nies said. "There were a lot of young children and families sitting in the area and it wasn't going to stop. When he left, it got very quiet."
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||40-79 (.506)||41-78 (.526)|
|3PM-3PA||6-16 (.375)||6-17 (.353)|
|FTM-FTA||24-29 (.828)||32-43 (.744)|
|Fast Break Points||8||25|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||28 (1/0)||23 (2/0)|