Last season the Denver Nuggets defeated the Boston Celtics in the first game after the All-Star break 124-118. It was an impressive win as they forced the Celtics to their style of basketball. The pace factor for that game was an Indy 500 like 108.3. The Nuggets shot over 50% and took 49 free throws. With that win the Nuggets proved that they could run on and defeat anyone at home.
Now skip ahead to Friday night’s game in Boston. The Nuggets beat the Celtics in a game where the pace factor was a glacial 87.1. They harassed the Celtics into shooting 39.7% from the field. They prevented the Celtics closer, Paul Pierce, from scoring in the fourth quarter. Offensively, they shot 48.8% against one of the top team defenses in years. They were very patient on offense and worked to earn a good shot on most of their possessions.
The kicker is they won despite all the reasons we cited as to why they would lose before the game. The Nuggets were on the second night of back to back games and it was their third game in four nights all on the road. They were facing a defensive oriented slow it down team who was well rested. During the game they had two or three chances to fold in the second half and really no one would have blamed them. Most Nugget fans were merely hoping to see the Nuggets play the Celtics tough and they had certainly proven they were capable of doing so.
I do not think any of us expected to see the Nuggets fall behind early 8-0, just like last seasons blowout in Boston, only to witness them fight back to tie the game at 13. They would fall behind again at the end of the first quarter 29-23. Over the first nine minutes of the second quarter the Nuggets went on a 25-7 run and held the lead at halftime.
Early in the third quarter the Nuggets pushed their lead up to 15 points at 59-44. At that point the Celtics cranked up the intensity and finished the third quarter on a 25-4 run to take the lead. One play that defined the run by the Celtics was when Kevin Garnett helped cause a turnover then outran the entire Nugget frontline, as well as his Celtic teammates, and scored a fast break layup to pull Boston within one. At that point we were probably all thinking the same thing. They had played a very solid game, but the Celtics are done fooling around and the Nuggets have worn down enough that they will not be able to put up much of a fight.
At that pint the Nuggets bench responded and actually got the lead back. J.R. Smith played a huge role in the surge as he hit a couple of threes and did a great job of matching the Celtics energy. However, Boston had one last run in them and they tied the game yet again at 84 with just over three minutes left. It was yet another point in the game where it seemed the Nuggets were in serious trouble. Then something amazing happened. The Nuggets closed the game out and left the Celtics wondering what went wrong.
It all started when Kenyon exploded into the lane and hit a lucky bounce runner. Next Nene ripped the ball away from Kendrick Perkins in a play reminiscent of his steal from Brandon Bass late in the Dallas game and Chauncey took off down the floor and somehow flipped a left handed layup in and was fouled for a three point play. On the next possession Carmelo Anthony delivered the dagger hitting a three off of penetration by Chauncey to put the Nuggets up eight with only 1:44 left.
Down the stretch the key was the Nuggets defense on Pierce. Melo and Kenyon took turns frustrating him and because Pierce had trouble not only getting shots off, but just getting the ball they forced the Celtics into situations they did not want to be in. The best example was coming out of a timeout after Melo’s three pointer the Celtics worked the ball to Pierce who drove and was completely shut down by Kenyon and Nene. The only option for Pierce was to kick out to Rajon Rondo who took a three and left it about two feet short.
I cannot stress how big of a win this was for the Nuggets. We now know the Nuggets can win a grind it out game under difficult circumstances on the road against the best the NBA has to offer.
If that is not promising, I do not know what is.
Other Observations from Game 9:
- The Nuggets have now played three straight road games where all three games had a pace factor of under 90 and they won two of them. Last season the Nuggets won exactly one road game where they scored under 100 points and they scored 99 in that contest. This season they already have two such wins.
- A big reason for that is Chauncey Billups. He has made a tremendous impact on both ends of the floor for Denver. He has added a completely different element for the Nuggets as he is a point guard who can make threes (although he was 0-3 in Boston). Defensively, he is great at directing the defense. The ease at which he has fit in is remarkable. The Nuggets are 4-1 in games Chauncey has played.
- If it were not for some red hot shooting by Ray Allen in the first quarter the Nuggets would have held the Celtics to under 80 points. Boston only scored 56 points in the last three quarters.
- The Nuggets had 15 steals. I do not have time to do the actual research, but I am pretty sure that is the most thefts they have gotten away with in a single game for quite some time. By the way, Nene was credited with five steals, which believe it or not was not a career high. He had six against Portland in 2004.
- Over the summer when I said I wanted the Nuggets to work on transforming themselves into a more defensive oriented half court team I had no idea they could do it so quickly. It just goes to show how much of basketball is mental and personal determination.
- Once again Renaldo Balkman made several plays where he did not actually get the rebound or steal, but he kept the play going so a teammate did. His hustle has played a huge role in the Nuggets new mindset.
- Kenyon had a nice scoring night, but it was augmented by a couple of pretty lucky rolls. However, he was trmendous defensively constantly hounding Garnett and just providing great defensive energy.
- It was encouraging to see the Nuggets return to their defense first, move without the ball and work for good shots on offense after getting away from those things the night before in Cleveland.
Razzle Dazzle Game Stats
As mentioned above, the pace factor for this game was 87.1. For the season the Nuggets are now down to a pace factor of only 94.9 down significantly from their 103.2 from last season.
The Nuggets offensive efficiency was a very impressive 107.9. That is a good rating against anyone, let alone the Celtics. For the season the Nuggets offensive efficiency is up to 103.4.
Denver’s defensive efficiency for the game was stout 97.6 and their defensive efficiency for the season is down to 102.5. For the fourth time in nine games the Nuggets have held their opponents under 40% shooting and for the season they are allowing opponents to convert on only 42.8% of their shots.