Boston 119, Denver 114

BOSTON, Dec. 15 (AP) -- It took Boston Celtics guard Tony Allen two up-and-down seasons to earn an everyday starting role. Now that he's got it, he's playing like he never wants to go back to the bench - even for a minute.

Paul Pierce scored 38 points and Allen added a career-high 30 to help the Boston Celtics extend their winning streak to four with a 119-114 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.

Allen shot 11-of-13 from the field while adding eight rebounds and three steals in 48 minutes. On defense, Allen kept Carmelo Anthony from single-handedly winning the game for the Nuggets.

Anthony scored a season-high 42 for the Nuggets, including 16 in the fourth quarter to keep the game close. But Allen's physical defense tired out Anthony, who missed six of 17 free throws.

"Obviously, Tony was phenomenal,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "In the second quarter, I told our coaches, 'Unless Tony asks to come out, he's not coming out.' Because I really didn't see anybody else guarding Carmelo.''

Al Jefferson had 28 points and 10 rebounds, while Wally Szczerbiak scored 16 points off the bench for the Celtics (9-13), who moved into a first-place tie with the New Jersey Nets in the lowly Atlantic Division. New Jersey lost to Toronto 90-78 earlier Friday.

The Celtics led by as many as 19 and never trailed, although Denver turned it into a close game thanks to Anthony, Andre Miller and J.R. Smith.

Miller scored 18 and Smith had 14 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter for the Nuggets (12-9), who lost their second straight and fell to 1-3 on their five-game trip.

The Nuggets (12-9) lost to Washington 120-91 on Tuesday and conclude the trip in New York on Saturday.

Boston led 70-51 early in the third quarter, but Miller and Anthony combined for 17 third-quarter points to help the Nuggets cut the deficit to 85-74 to start the fourth.

After Jefferson opened the fourth with a layup to extend Boston's lead to 13, Anthony scored five straight, sparking an 11-2 run that helped the Nuggets close the gap to 89-85.

The Nuggets got as close as 94-91 on Miller's layup midway through the quarter, but Boston scored seven of the next nine points to pull away.

Allen's steal and breakaway dunk capped the spurt and made it 101-93 with 4 minutes remaining. Pierce, who added nine assists and eight rebounds, hit a 3-pointer two possessions later to make it 106-95.

"I thought we had better flow in the second half, but still dug too big of a hole,'' Nuggets coach George Karl said. ``You can't get behind 15, 18 points on the road. It's insane, it's hard to make up that big of a difference.''

Boston improved to 4-2 since Allen moved into the starting lineup six games ago with Szczerbiak out with a left ankle sprain.

Szczerbiak returned for Boston's 101-81 victory Tuesday in Philadelphia, but has come off the bench since. Before the game Friday, Rivers said he planned to keep Allen in the starting lineup because of his defensive presence and because Szczerbiak adds a spark off the bench the Celtics had been missing.

Allen started 34 games as a rookie in 2004-05, but wasn't able to sustain his success last year. He missed the first 23 games of the season while recovering from offseason knee surgery, and didn't get into a rhythm until late in the season.

After a slow start, Allen has now scored at least 16 points in three of his last five games.

"I think I got a little more strength in my knee now,'' Allen said. "I'm taking advantage of the opportunity that I was given.''

Allen made his first eight shots, and his 11 first-quarter points helped the Celtics jump out to a 31-17 lead. He kept it going in the second quarter, following Anthony's layup with a baseline dunk and a 3-pointer to extend Boston's lead to 36-19.

"(Allen) caught us by surprise,'' said Denver center Marcus Camby, who had 11 points and seven rebounds. "He came out with high energy in the first quarter, and once they got that lead we weren't able to catch them.''

Notes: Boston power forward Ryan Gomes sat out after straining his right calf in Tuesday's win over Philadelphia. Rivers said he's unsure how much time Gomes will miss. Brian Scalabrine started in Gomes' place. ... The Celtics snapped a four-game home losing streak. ... Before the game, Denver coach George Karl said his team has been distracted by Allen Iverson trade rumors. "I'm not going to deny it,'' Karl said. "We're human beings, I'm sure some it affects some of our players.'' ... The Nuggets have been outscored a combined 140-90 in the first quarter during their road trip.

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