DENVER (AP)—It was almost like he never left.
Running, cutting, pushing the pace, the Denver Nuggets made it seem like old times Wednesday night, defeating the Boston Celtics 107-86 to give Doug Moe a win in his first game back on the bench as George Karl’s new assistant.
“It was like agony at first,” Moe said. “No butterflies. It’s different. You start yelling and my throat was bothering me.”
Andre Miller scored 22 points, Carmelo Anthony had 19 and Kenyon Martin had 18 points and 13 rebounds to help the Nuggets successfully begin their post-All-Star-game run at the playoffs. They began the night four games behind the Lakers for eighth place in the Western Conference.
Seeking some help on the bench, Karl persuaded Moe, his old North Carolina buddy and the winningest coach in Nuggets history, to sit by him for the final 29 games of the season. Moe agreed—“because I’m stupid, or something like that,” he said—and the Nuggets played a lot like they did when he was coaching them to 432 victories from 1980-90.
Moving the ball in the halfcourt and pushing it whenever they could, they had 29 points after one quarter, 57 at halftime and 94 after three, the last three coming on a 30-footer by DerMarr Johnson at the buzzer.
“I think the word is `pace,”’ Karl said. “The pace of the game tonight was great. I want pace to be an intimidating factor. Doug is the best coach I’ve ever seen do that.”
Moe’s old Nuggets scored 120 on most nights, and while that might be asking too much in this era, there was no denying this was a more entertaining version of this team than fans had seen most of the season.
Miller was the sparkplug, scoring 12 of his points in the first quarter and also finishing with six assists.
“It’s attitude and aggressiveness. He took chances,” Karl said. “I’d rather see us aggressive and crazy than conservative and boring.”
The Celtics, meanwhile, fell to 0-2 since the All-Star break, this coming a night after a 104-95 loss to the Lakers. They were dragging through much of this game, and frustrated, as well.
Coach Doc Rivers got ejected at the end of the first half. When he got his second technical, from David Jones, it was the last in a string of four Boston received in the final 0.3 seconds of the half. Gary Payton got one for arguing, but officials turned the other way when, at the buzzer, he chucked the ball 15 rows up into the stands.
“I don’t think I did enough to get thrown out,” Rivers said. “I’ve had a couple of times where I’ve earned it, but I didn’t tonight. It doesn’t bother me, though. Davey was just looking to hand out the techs tonight, and that happens.”
The Nuggets went ahead by 20 late in the third quarter, and kept running from there, although things got a little sloppy as the game reached its end.
Their sweetest play came early in the third, when Martin grabbed a rebound and threw a skip pass 40 feet down the floor to catch Miller in stride for an easy layup.
Anthony, meanwhile, ran the floor, passed and rebounded. He made 12 free throws to offset a 3-for-14 shooting night and had six rebounds and six assists to prove that he can, indeed, be a major factor even when his shot isn’t falling.
“Despite the shooting, I thought I played good,” he said. “I distributed the ball, played team. I thought I had an overall good game.”
Moe watched the whole thing passively from the bench wearing a natty black suit with a red tie—his “emergency suit,” he called it. It was quite a different scene than Nuggets fans remembered from the old days, when he would come out looking rumpled and grumpy, pacing the sidelines, yelling at players and refs and using “colorful” language to get his points across.
Moe, known by his friends as the “Big Stiff,” said he was returning as a favor to Karl, as the Nuggets try to rally and make the playoffs for the second straight year. The former head coach is in the same position he was in back in the mid-70s, when he started his coaching career as Larry Brown’s assistant with the Nuggets.
“It seemed like it was when I was with Larry,” Moe said. “All I had to do was say, `Way to go George.’ Only with Larry, I said, `Way to go Larry.”’
Former Nuggets first-round draft pick Raef LaFrentz finished with five points. … Hoping to get Miller more touches, Karl gave Johnson a start and brought Earl Boykins off the bench. … Moe replaced Michael Cooper on the bench. Cooper will be reassigned within the organization. … The Nuggets mascot, Rocky, went cold and his six-game streak of making a shot backward from halfcourt ended. … With one steal, Payton tied Maurice Cheeks for third on the NBA career steals list at 2,310.