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Nuggets avoid rare back-to-back losses despite blowing 20-point lead

DENVER -- 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 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.

Game 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.