Celtics Clinch Playoff Berth With 113-99 Filleting of Nuggets

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Celtics Clinch Playoff Berth With 113-99 Filleting of Nuggets BOSTON — Paul Pierce scored 27
points, Kevin Garnett had 20 and the Boston Celtics clinched a playoff
berth with a 113-99 win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.

The Celtics dominated inside and the
Nuggets, one day after losing to the Knicks in New York, slipped a
half-game behind the Dallas Mavericks and into a third-place tie with
Utah in the Western Conference with their third consecutive loss.

Boston led by 21 points twice in the
third quarter before Denver cut the lead to 87-80 going into the fourth.
But the Celtics stayed ahead by seven to 16 the rest of the way for
their fifth win in six games. Rajon Rondo had a triple-double with 11
points, 15 assists and 11 rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony led Denver with 32
points and J.R. Smith added 21.

The Celtics played aggressively from
the start, beginning with Garnett’s dunk on an alley-oop pass from
Kendrick Perkins for the first basket of the game. Capitalizing on the
absence of defensive star Kenyon Martin, who missed his 11th consecutive
game with left knee tendinitis, Boston scored 58 points in the paint.

Denver coach George Karl missed his
fourth straight game and ninth overall since announcing that he had been
diagnosed with cancer. The Nuggets are 5-4 under acting head coach
Adrian Dantley while Karl undergoes treatment for throat and neck
cancer. Karl also was hospitalized this week with blood clots in his
lungs and a leg, according to a blog by his girlfriend, Kim Van Deraa.

Denver is just 17-19 on the road with
four games left on the road trip.

The Celtics’ strong inside presence
and attacking style were just two positive signs as they gear up for the
playoffs. The win was their fourth straight at home, where they’re just
22-12, and began a season-long six-game home stand in 12 days,
culminating with a Sunday afternoon meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers
on April 4.

Boston has reached the playoffs in all
three seasons since Garnett and Ray Allen joined Pierce to form the Big
Three. It won its 17th NBA title in 2008 and was eliminated in the
Eastern Conference semifinals by the Orlando Magic in 2009.

The Celtics led 30-27 after the first
quarter in which Pierce outscored Anthony 14-11 and stretched that to
61-51 at halftime.

They came out strong in the third
quarter with a 18-7 run that gave them a 79-58 lead. But the Nuggets
scrambled back, starting with a three-point play by Anthony. Trailing
85-69, they scored eight straight points, six by Anthony.

Michael Finley stopped the surge with
a basket that made it 87-77, before Smith hit a 3-pointer at the
buzzer.

Notes
Utah beat Toronto to tie
Denver for third in the West. … The Nuggets’ magic number to clinch a
playoff berth remained at three. … Ray Allen scored 16 points and
moved ahead of David Robinson into third place in career points with
20,794. Robinson scored 20,790. … The Nuggets failed to score 100
points for the fourth time in five games after entering the game
averaging 107.5, third in the NBA.

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