DENVER -- Nine days ago the Boston Celtics hit big jumper after big jumper to rally past the Denver Nuggets.
Tuesday, the legs that fueled that triple-overtime win in the Garden had no gas in the Colorado altitude.
"It got to us, you could clearly see it," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
And the Nuggets took advantage. Danilo Gallinari returned to the lineup to score 26 points, and Denver pulled away late to beat the Celtics 97-90 Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center.
Ty Lawson also had 26 points and added six assists, and Kenneth Faried had seven points and 16 rebounds for the Nuggets, who snapped a three-game skid.
Denver, which for years has turned the Mile High City into one of the best home-court advantages in the NBA, relied on the thin air against the defensive-minded Celtics. The Nuggets had nine players log at least 17 minutes and wore down their older opponents.
"There was a lot of huffing and puffing going on out there," Nuggets coach George Karl said.
There was no altitude factor in Boston, where the Celtics pulled out the win after Jeff Green and Paul Pierce hit 3-pointers to force the last two overtimes. Pierce couldn't find the magic Tuesday, finishing with 10 points on 2-for-14 shooting.
Green led Boston with 20 points, and Avery Bradley added 17. Both were season highs but it wasn't enough Tuesday.
The game was tied at 65 late in the third quarter when the Nuggets started to take control. A 3-pointer by Gallinari and two layups by Corey Brewer gave Denver a 78-70 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Celtics wouldn't go away, though. Denver missed four shots to open the fourth, and Green's 3-pointer cut Boston's deficit to 80-79 with 8:55 left.
Bradley tied it with a 3-pointer with 5:34 left, but Gallinari answered at the other end to make it 87-84.
Lawson hit a floater in the lane to extend the lead to five, and after Kevin Garnett missed two free throws, Faried's putback made it 93-86 with 2:35 left.
"In the third quarter we got away from the offense," Garnett said. "Fourth quarter we tried to get some calls, be aggressive. We had some shots that we usually make and we didn't hit them."
Green hit a running layup and Jason Terry sank two free throws to pull Boston within 94-90 with 1:09 left. The Celtics had a chance to get within two in the final minute, but Garnett missed a contested layup and Lawson hit two free throws to seal it.
It marked the fourth straight game Lawson has scored at least 26 points. He's averaging 27.5 points while shooting 62 percent from the field in those games.
"I'm just attacking, not thinking about whether I should shoot or second guessing my shot," Lawson said. "Just trusting myself and it's been working out."
The Celtics acknowledged they went away from trusting one another in the first half to trying to win the game individually in the second half.
"We got stagnant with ball movement," Pierce said. "We just didn't make the adjustment. A little too much on-on-one."
Lawson scored 10 points in the second quarter, including a 3-pointer with 36 seconds left to put the Nuggets up 49-48. Courtney Lee hit a 17-foot jumper at the halftime buzzer to give Boston a one-point lead.
NOTES: The Nuggets failed to break 100 points for the first time in the last 14 games. ... The Celtics had only 10 players active for the game. They signed forward Terrence Williams to a 10-day contract and hoped to have him available, but he did not get clearance from his team in China in time for Rivers to submit his lineup before the game. "It hasn't come through yet so we couldn't put him on," Rivers said of the letter. "I think we have to call China. It'll happen when it happens." Williams did take part in Boston's morning shootaround Tuesday. ... The Nuggets got Gallinari and Andre Iguodala back in the lineup after both missed the previous two games. Gallinari was out with a sinus infection, and Iguodala suffered a strained neck in the triple-overtime loss in Boston. Iguodala scored just one point in 29 minutes Tuesday. ... Lawson came into the game averaging 28 points, nine assists and two steals in his previous three games. He also was shooting 64 percent from 3-point range and 62 percent overall. ... Pierce needs 16 free throws to pass Charles Barkley for 11th in NBA history. He went 5 for 5 from the line Tuesday.