An abysmal start to the game and a lackluster defensive effort overall led the Denver Nuggets to a loss today. Despite strong outings from Nikola Jokic and Danilo Gallinari. Isaiah Thomas led an all out offensive barrage from the Celtics back court. The Nuggets had no defense for the three point shot which kept them from recovering from the early hole they dug. Despite a spirited effort mid game, the Celtics offense won out and handed the Nuggets another loss.
Emmanuel Mudiay opened the game with a prayer three pointer at the end of the shot clock and that would be about all the luck the Nuggets would have in the game. Denver got out to a 7-4 lead but went ice cold from the field. On top of the poor shooting they kept turning the ball over and the Celtics rode a 18-4 run to gain an eleven point lead. The Nuggets offense looked flat, resorting to too many jump shots and the officiating wasn't going their way as well. Behind a solid performance from Thomas the Celtics led 35-17 after the 1st quarter.
The second quarter started with more of the same with the Nuggets turning the ball over (many via screening fouls) and shooting poorly from the field. The Celtics expanded their lead chiefly from the foul line and at one point Denver trailed by 26. Then Denver started running their offense through Nikola Jokic and began to have some success. Jokic and newcomer D.J. Augustin sparked a 10-0 run and had Denver been able to defend the three ball better they may have closed out the half trailing by single digits. Nonetheless some aggressive play from Emmanuel Mudiay to finish the quarter left the Nuggets trailing 64-49.
The third quarter opened with a reverse in shooting fortunes. Boston struggled from the field and Mudiay, Gallo and Jokic opened strong to get the Celtics lead back to single digits. The Nuggets would get it within five before a mini 5-0 run by Boston pushed the lead back to double digits. Thomas had it going again, getting into the lane with ease and converting. Both teams struggled shooting to close out the quarter but Will Barton hit a big three right at the end to put Denver down by 11.
Augustin, who had a very nice game overall, opened the fourth by converting a tough lay up. However, Denver's defensive effort continued to be non-existent and they couldn't close the gap on the scoreboard. It didn't help that the officiating was questionable with a lot of calls going in Boston's favor. Denver's effort offense was offset by their poor play on defense along with some struggles from the free throw line and they just couldn't get over hump to get back within striking distance at the end of the game. Celtics win 121-101.
Key match up: Emmanuel Mudiay vs Isaiah Thomas
Thomas opened the game very strong. He had nine points and ten assists after one half of play and when Denver was trying to come back in the second quarter it was chiefly when Thomas was out. Mudiay also played well to start the game. He was aggressive in getting to the basket and also was converting at the free throw line. Mudiay's aggressive play continued into the second half and despite some turnovers he was very efficient scoring. Thomas meanwhile ran the Celtics offense superbly and was yet another quick scoring point guard who presented problems for the Nuggets. In the end Thomas had the better night putting up a big double double and led the Celtics to victory.
Key match up deux: Danilo Gallinari vs Jae Crowder
Gallo was one of the few Nuggets that was able to score in the first quarter and put in his regular body of work offensively throughout the game. Crowder struggled to score early but being the Swiss Army knife type of player he is, was able to contribute in other ways. Each player highlighted their strengths in this game but neither really got the better of the other. Gallinari would end up having the better game of the two but Crowder's team got the win.
Closing thought: Where's the defensive effort
Look, you can certainly bring up some questions about the officiating tonight, but the Nuggets were ultimately sunk by their effort on defense. They opened the game by allowing thirty-five first quarter points and surrendered 121 overall. They let the Celtics shoot the three at will. Jokic looked very good for Denver but he's not a defensive presence in the paint and the lack of that continues to hurt them. They're going to have to give a better effort than they did today and Friday against the Sacramento Kings if they want to seize any momentum at in the final portion of the season. Hopefully they can come back re-focused and ready to play a complete game in their re-match with the Kings on Tuesday.