BOSTON -- 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.
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 4½ 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.
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.