Pierce nearly outscores Nuggets in first half

BOSTON (AP) -- With his scoring sidekick on the bench in street clothes, Paul Pierce had no problem picking up the slack.

Pierce had 45 points and almost outscored the entire Denver team in the first half as the Boston Celtics beat the Nuggets 77-58 on Friday night.

"He was absolutely superb,'' Boston coach Jim O'Brien said. "He was very hot right from the beginning and I couldn't call enough plays to get the ball in his hands.''

Boston, minus Antoine Walker for the second straight game because of a sprained right knee, has won five of six overall and eight in a row against Denver.

The Nuggets, the lowest-scoring team in the league, wound up
tied for the 11th-fewest point total in NBA history since the
24-second shot clock was implemented in 1954-55.

Less than two minutes before halftime, Pierce had 28 points to
the Nuggets' 27. Denver had 29 points at the break, one more than

"He's a gifted offensive player,'' Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "We also had some defensive breakdowns that allowed him to get some good looks, but he's a great player.

"We held them to 77 points, which is good enough to win. Our
inability to make shots has been our Achilles' heel all year.''

Pierce, who also had 10 rebounds, finished one point shy of his
season high.

The last time the Celtics lost to the Nuggets was a 112-99
setback on Feb. 10, 1998.

The Celtics led by 15 at halftime, but the Nuggets held Pierce
to just two points in the third quarter and cut the deficit to
61-54 before Pierce took over.

Pierce ended a 6-0 spurt with a drive through the lane and Eric Williams pushed the lead back to double-digits with a free throw.

Pierce scored the team's next 10 points before being taken out
with 2:10 left and the Celtics ahead 74-56. He scored a season-high
46 at New York on Nov. 2.

"I wanted to score 50,'' Pierce said. "I think it would have been nice for the fans.''

The Nuggets, who have lost six of their last seven, fell to 3-18
on the road this season and have lost six consecutive games in

"We're professionals and we can't let it get to us,'' said Denver forward Chris Anderson, who had a game-high 11 rebounds. "We're going to keep playing hard until the end because we don't want to get embarrassed.''

Rodney White led Denver with 11 points and Donnell Harvey was
the only other Nuggets player in double-figures with 10.

Williams added 11 for the Celtics.

Game notes
Celtics center Vin Baker picked up two fouls in the first
1:15 and then was immediately called for a technical after the
second foul. ... The Nuggets were without Juwan Howard, who was in
Chicago attending his uncle's funeral. ... Denver's Marcus Camby,
who played his college ball at nearby University of Massachusetts,
sat out his third straight game with a sprained right ankle. ...
Walker missed the 12th game of his seven-year NBA career. ...
Pierce, who played at Kansas, will have his No. 34 jersey retired
at halftime of the Jayhawks' game against Arizona on Saturday. ...
The crowd started chanting "We Want Pierce'' after he was taken
out late in the fourth. ... Boston guard Tony Delk left with a
sprained left ankle and did not return.


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