Nuggets hang on to hand Celtics first Western Conference blemish

DENVER (AP) -- Allen Iverson felt no satisfaction from knocking off the top team in the league, just added pressure.

Carmelo Anthony scored 29 points, Iverson added 28 and the Denver Nuggets spoiled the return of Kevin Garnett, holding on for a 124-118 victory over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night.

"Winning this game puts a lot of pressure on us, because if you can beat a team like this, then you can beat all the other teams," Iverson said. "We have enough talent to scare some people, but we just have to bring it night in and night out."

The Nuggets even beat the Celtics at full strength -- kind of. Garnett, who's been out since Jan. 25 with a strained abdominal muscle, wasn't his flashy self, finishing with four points on 2-of-7 shooting in close to 21 minutes of action. He also had eight rebounds.

"It was good to get back," said Garnett, who planned to play Wednesday night at Golden State. "It felt good."

His coach didn't mince words when asked about his star's performance.

"Not very good," said Rivers, whose team was 16-0 against the Western Conference before the loss. "But you have to expect that when he sits out that long. He was rusty."

Garnett would agree with the assessment. He felt a little winded, but chalked it up to the Mile High City.

"It feels like I've been out for a couple of years," he said. "There wasn't a lot of air out there."

His legs, though, felt rejuvenated. The nine-game break did him wonders.

"I felt like I was 27," Garnett said. "I felt young."

Garnett came in averaging 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds this season, and anchoring a Celtics defense that's allowing an NBA-low 89.4 points per game.

However, the Nuggets dictated the pace of play, scoring the most points against the Celtics this season. The previous high was 114 points scored by Toronto and Cleveland.

"We didn't want to get into an offensive shootout," Rivers said. "We did that and still had a chance to win."

Paul Pierce scored 24 points and Rajon Rondo added 22. Ray Allen, fresh off his 28-point performance at Sunday's All-Star Game, scored 14 of his 20 points in the first quarter. He went 2-for-10 after the opening 12 minutes.

But Allen almost helped bring the Celtics back. He cut the lead to 121-118 on a 3-pointer with 13 seconds remaining when Anthony jumped up to grab his shot that was short of the rim. However, Anthony was called for goaltending. And although the Nuggets held on, Nuggets coach George Karl was upset about the call.

"Wow," Karl said. "He [referee Bennie Adams] likes making big calls and bad calls at the end of the game. How can you call goaltending when the ball is halfway below the rim?"

Anthony didn't understand the call, either.

"I could have stood right under the basket and not even jump and it would have fell right into my hands," Anthony said.

The Nuggets can't complain too much about the officiating -- they were sent to the line a season-high 49 times, hitting 34 of them. The Celtics were 19 of 28 from the free throw line.

"We got a good whistle," Karl said.

Now, he's hoping that with this win comes a little more respect.

"I think the team deserves better acceptance for what it's done," Karl said.

Not that Iverson is putting much stock in one game.

"I don't look at it as we beat the best team in the league, a win is a win," Iverson said. "Obviously, we can compete with anybody. No one seems to know how much talent we have."

Game notes
The Suns and Nuggets will play an outdoor game in Indian Wells, Calif., during the 2008-09 preseason. Camby said he may have to work on his jumper to make it more aerodynamic. "I have a high release -- it's probably not too good outdoors," he said. ... Celtics F Brian Scalabrine was out with a strained right groin. ... Denver is 22-6 at the Pepsi Center this season. ... Boston F Leon Powe had 13 points and tied a season high with 11 rebounds. ... The Nuggets had 19,894 fans in attendance, the largest regular season crowd in franchise history.