Both teams struggled to score throughout the game, but Pierce made 16-of-27 shots and fell one point shy of his season high in a dominant effort. He has scored 115 points in his last three games as Boston tries to overcome the loss of Walker, who is out at least two weeks with a knee injury.
“I just wanted to be aggressive, whether it was me scoring the ball or finding an open man, I wasn’t going to try and overdo it,” he said. “That was the main thing. I wanted to play the game myself and I think on the most part I did that.”
The Celtics never trailed after scoring the game’s first eight points and Pierce caught fire late in the first quarter. He scored Boston’s final 16 points in the period and outscored Denver, 16-7, during the final eight minutes for a 24-11 cushion.
“It’s easy to really go out there and have a lot against a team of Denver’s caliber,” Pierce said. “I said last game I was going to try and pace myself, but today I said, ‘you know, why wait? You can come out and be aggressive from start to finish,’ and I was here to do that.”
Pierce scored nine points in the second quarter as the Celtics took a 44-29 halftime advantage. He was held to just a pair of free throws in the third quarter, but the Nuggets never got closer than nine.
Denver scored six straight points to pull within 61-54 with 6:35 left in the game. But Pierce, who had 15 points in the final nine minutes, scored the first 12 points of a 15-2 run as Boston took its largest lead at 77-56 with just 34 seconds left.
“That’s what Paul is capable of,” Boston forward Walter McCarty said. “He can go in grooves like that. Tonight, he carried us. We’ve seen it before from him.”
Pierce’s heroics salvaged a dismal second half for the Celtics, who scored just 33 points on 9-of-32 shooting after halftime. He made 5-of-11 shots in the final 24 minutes while his teammates combined to shoot just 4-of-21.
Pierce made 4-of-7 3-pointers, 9-of-10 free throws and grabbed 10 rebounds as Boston won its eighth straigth meetings with Denver.
“I thought he absolutely was superb,” Boston coach Jim O’Brien said. “Very hot right from the beginning. I couldn’t call enough plays to get the ball in his hands. I thought he was outstanding. Going to the basket, shooting jump shots, coming off the pick-and-roll, I thought it was a brilliant performance.”
Boston shot just 38 percent (27-of-71) from the floor but held Denver to just 31 percent (24-of-78). The Nuggets, who scored a season-low 53 points on November 16, fell nine points shy of matching the lowest score of the shot-clock era.
“We can’t make shots and we struggled to score,” Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “We defend, we hustle, we play hard, we rebound, but we can’t make shots, and our inability to make shots leads us to this kind of result.”
The Nuggets played without leading scorer Juwan Howard, who was not with the team due to personal reasons.
“We saw the importance of Juwan Howard to this basketball team,” Bzdelik said. “He gives us, just recently anyway, 20-plus points a game and steadies us down.”
“I’m sure Juwan would’ve helped,” Nuggets forward Mark Blount said. “But we didn’t read the schemes very well. We’ve got to know what they’re doing on defense, and you got to read it.”
Eric Williams scored 11 points and was the only other player in double figures for Boston, which has won five of its last six games following a three-game slide.
Blount nailed a pair of jumpers as Denver scored six straight points to pull within 26-21 midway through the second quarter. Pierce scored six points during an 8-0 run that gave the Celtics a 36-23 cushion with 4:34 remaining.
Denver pulled within 46-37 less than four minutes into the third quarter, but Williams scored the final five points of a 7-1 run and Boston maintained a double-digit lead until the fourth.