Integrating five new players offensively will take time for the Denver Nuggets. Defense? That came right away.
The Nuggets held the short-handed — and shortened — Boston Celtics scoreless over the final six-plus minutes Thursday night, closing the game with a 16-0 run for an 89-75 win, their second straight since sending Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the New York Knicks.
"Defense is all effort," said Kenyon Martin, who led Denver with 18 points and 10 boards despite playing with the flu and missing the second quarter to get two bags of IV fluids.
"It's how hard you play. Shots come and go," Martin said. "It's about just giving maximum effort day in and day out. That's what we did. That's what we'll continue to do."
Wilson Chandler, one of the newcomers, chipped in 16 points and eight players each played more than 20 minutes in coach George Karl's new spread-the-wealth system that featured Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton splitting time at the point until the final five minutes, when they were on the court together and helped the Nuggets pull away.
The game pitted two teams that reshaped their rosters ahead of the NBA trade deadline. The Nuggets had a bunch of new players and the Celtics a bunch of empty seats along their bench following a flurry of trades that unloaded a bunch of big men.
The Celtics suited up just nine players and had to fight through the emotions of losing center Kendrick Perkins, who was dealt to Oklahoma City for forward Jeff Green in the biggest of Boston's trio of trades Thursday.
"Tough day to play basketball," Kevin Garnett said. "Very tough day to play basketball, to even concentrate. Just being bluntly honest. You feel like you lost a family member today. Tough day."
"It was very emotional, especially for me being that I had a chance to see Perkins grow up from Day One, fresh out of high school, coming in here and seeing the level he got to, a championship team," said Paul Pierce. "It's definitely emotional. I had a chance to talk to him this afternoon a little bit, he was definitely hurt. The guys around this locker room were definitely hurt to see Perk go."
The Nuggets, 2-0 since trading Melo, had their full complement of players, but their best defender, Martin, spent the second quarter in the locker room.
New Nuggets Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Felton got off to a slow start, combining to shoot 2 for 12 in the first half, which ended with Denver ahead 37-36.
Denver took a 61-60 lead into the fourth quarter, when the pace picked up a little.
Pierce, who led Boston with 17 points, hit a 3-pointer with 6:05 remaining that gave Boston a 75-73 lead, but the Celtics wouldn't score again.
Chandler's 3-pointer put Denver ahead for good and Martin's three-point play with 3:03 left gave Denver its biggest lead to that point at 79-75.
The Eastern Conference-leading Celtics also dealt reserve Nate Robinson to the Thunder and received Nenad Krstic, a future first-round draft pick, and cash in the Perkins deal.
Earlier in the day, the Celtics acquired draft picks by sending forward Luke Harangody and rookie center Semih Erden to Cleveland and injured swingman Marquis Daniels to Sacramento.
With such a short bench for coach Doc Rivers to work with, the Celtics called up center Chris Johnson from the D-League, signed him to a 10-day contract and put him right to work. He scored six points.
Once loaded with interior size, the Celtics will now have to hope Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal get healthy in time for the playoffs.
"We need to get Shaq healthy. Shaq will be healthy. But if Shaq plays great, then this deal was obviously really, really good for us," River said.
The inclusion of Krstic, the Thunder's starting center since they brought him back to the NBA from Russia in December 2008, should help offset Boston's loss of Perkins.
It wasn't just Perkins' departure that had the Celtics so sad.
"We lost Semhi, Luke, Quis," Garnett said, pausing. "Just a tough day. Tough day."
The Nuggets are hoping to stay in the playoff hunt in the West following the megadeal that brought in Gallinari, Felton, Chandler and Timofey Mazgov from New York and Kosta Koufus from Minnesota.
"The last two games have probably been as fun for me to coach and win because you're playing hard and playing unified," Karl said. "We've got too many talented kids. It may not be the same script every night but we'll figure out how to score points and we'll figure out how to win if we defend and play hard."
The Celtics are concerned about their chemistry without Perkins.
"I hate to lose a teammate like Perkins," Pierce said. "He meant so much. People don't understand chemistry is from the bus to the plane to the locker room, so it's definitely a blow. It depends on how the other guys make the adjustment.
Pierce also said this is an example of how the ruthlessness of the NBA cuts both ways.
"It's the nature of the business," he said. "People thought LeBron James was cold for leaving Cleveland the way it is. This is an example of how it happens on the management end. You can't get mad at the players because it can happen to them unexpectedly, just like a player can go where he wants. It's just the nature of the beast."
Notes: The Nuggets scored a season-low 37 first-half points, and the Celtics' 36 points was one more than their worst first-half production this season. ... Rivers said he expects his new players on the practice court Saturday.