BOSTON, March 12 (Ticker) -- Paul Pierce showed Carmelo Anthony that it's not how you start, but how you finish.

Pierce matched Anthony with 36 points, including his team's last six, as the Boston Celtics edged the Denver Nuggets, 106-101.

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In the first half, Anthony scored 26 points. He made his first 11 shots before missing a halfcourt 3-pointer at the buzzer. Pierce scored 20 points to keep the Celtics close at 58-56.

The contest remained tight thereafter. Rookie Ryan Gomes, who collected 11 points and 11 rebounds, tied it, 100-100, with a free throw with 3:46 remaining.

Already assured of his 15th 30-point effort in 18 games, Pierce began to show the late-game magic Celtics fans have enjoyed throughout his career. He began a 6-1 run with an authoritative dunk over Kenyon Martin and Ruben Patterson at the 2:43 mark.

"When you've got it going, you've got it going," Pierce said. "I just keep my focus down the stretch. That's the time I mostly concentrate and that's when I want the ball. Most players don't want it in that situation.

"In my case, when I take the shot, I feel either two things are going to happen. Either you are going to make it or you are going to miss. I'm just not afraid to fail, that's all."

Wally Szczerbiak, acquired a month ago, is astounded by Pierce's calm under pressure. "It's just amazing," Szczerbiak said. "He's such a smart basketball player. He lets the game come to him so easy and he never gets flustered. He just goes out there and uses his teammates, uses the plays, and he knows the offense inside and out.

"He's probably the best player in the league at changing speeds. He keeps the defense off balance and that's why he's able to do it every night."

Martin, who missed the previous four games with a sore left knee, split a pair at the line to make it a one-point game with 2 1/2 minutes to go.

However, Martin made a costly blunder as he hauled in the rebound of Delonte West's miss but made an errant pass that was stolen by Gomes with 1:08 left. Pierce sank a turnaround jumper 16 seconds later to make it 104-101.

"When Pierce made the two shots, he made it very difficult," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "We played a great game on the road. To have a chance to win on the road anytime is a good game. We just didn't finish the product tonight."

"It's not just the numbers," Celtics forward Raef LaFrentz said. "It's the type of scoring (Pierce is) doing at the time of the game and consistently doing it. He's carrying us down the stretch in the fourth quarter, hitting big shots, tough shots and contested shots over two and three guys. He's been phenomenal."

Anthony, who was just 3-of-9 from the floor in the second half, missed a layup on the other end and Pierce sealed the victory with a fallaway jumper over Patterson with 11 ticks on the clock.

"I was competing, trying to win. At the end, that's what it came down to," said Anthony, who was hampered by a tight hamstring in the fourth quarter. "(Pierce) had the ball in his hands. I think Boston did a good job of just getting him the ball down the stretch when they needed it."

Coming off a loss to Milwaukee, Boston gained some valuable momentum as it heads out on a four-game road swing through Memphis, Miami, Orlando and Indiana.

"(The win) was huge," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "You know going out on the road having lost two tough ones (if we lost this one) would not have been a good scenario for us. At least we know we can hang in games and win."

The Celtics (27-36) gained a half-game on idle Milwaukee but are still 3 1/2 games out of the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

"I told the guys we only have five games we can lose," Pierce said. "In order for us to make (the playoffs), we have to win 14 of the next 19 games. I feel confident, definitely, that we can do it. We've won four of our last six road games, so hopefully we have some confidence on the road that we can pull off some big wins."

Despite Pierce's heroics, Karl was more upset with his team's offense, which shot 6-of-16 from the floor and committed seven turnovers.

"We didn't lose the game with our defense, we lost the game in the fourth quarter with our seven turnovers and trouble getting shots against a zone and settling for threes," Karl said.