The Boston Celtics are having an incredible season to say the least, and they’ve done an excellent job of guarding their home turf losing only 2 games at home to date. Tonight was no exception, and although the Nuggets put forth incredible effort, it just wasn’t enough to overcome the Eastern Conference super team with the #1 defense in the NBA.
Things got off to a quick start for the Nuggets with a monster one handed dunk from Trey Lyles that seemed to ignite the rest of the team allowing them to go 6 for 6 shooting to take the early lead. The Nuggets did a good job moving the ball, and set good screens allowing some easy lay-ups and dunks underneath while the Celtics kept pace.
Malone made quite a few substitutions early on bringing in Malik Beasley, Emmanuel Mudiay, Juancho Hernangomez and Kenneth Faried with just two minutes to go in the first. Faried did work on defense with a couple of important blocks and 5 rebounds, but two missed layups caused the Nuggets to go 0-4 in the paint toward the end. The Nuggets missed six shots in a row, and gave up 9 straight points, but they hung on to the lead by just one point heading into the second quarter.
Malik Beasley made his impact to start the second with an aggressive floating jump shot, and some great moves on defense. However, 5 missed shots and careless turnovers from Denver allowed the Celtics to take the lead by 10 points on 58.5% shooting with Aron Baynes leading the effort at 85.7% from the field. Some hard work on offense from the Nuggets’ guards brought Denver back to within 5 points with just over 6 minutes to go in the quarter, but overall the Denver’s bench was just not performing going 4-16 shooting. The Nuggets committed 6 turnovers in the second quarter alone allowing Boston to capitalize to end the half with a 9 point lead 68-59.
Denver opened the second half with some good defense forcing the Celtics into tough shots. They maintained poise against defensive pressure from the Celtics working to finish shots. Gary Harris tallied his 19th point early on in the third regularly making his way to the rim through contact. A 9-0 run for the Nuggets allowed them to bring the game back to within just 2 points with just over 5 minutes to go in the quarter. Harris continued his effort picking up 7 more points for the quarter at 40% from 3 and 63.2% from the field with the Nuggets trailing by 5.
Boston really turned up the heat in the 4th quarter, and sloppy turnovers from the Nuggets allowed the Celtics to maintain a fairly healthy lead. Malone brought the starters back in with just over 8 minutes to go in the game, and Harris secured his new career high at 36 points. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, Irving is a 4th quarter closer and it’s pretty hard to argue with 33 points at 63.2% from the field and 44.4% from 3. The Nuggets’ guards put forth a Goliath effort combining for 64 total points, and they lost by just 6 points 124-118.
As I mentioned in the game preview, the Nuggets typically don’t respond well to defensive pressure. However, tonight Harris led the way and attacked that pressure allowing the Nuggets to stay in the game and avoid getting blown out. He expected contact and pushed through to finish in spite of it. On top of it all he brought in a career high 36 points at 64% from the field and 37.5% from 3—truly impressive. If the Nuggets guards can continue with this type of effort, they may just be able to maintain while Paul Millsap is away.
How ‘bout that Trey Lyles?
While the injuries the Nuggets have experienced lately aren’t good, one good thing that has come out of that bad situation has been Lyles seeing more minutes. He’s performed so well that Coach Mike Malone allowed to him start tonight, and he did not disappoint. His aggressiveness off a back to back allowed Denver to capture momentum, and that pace persisted through the entire game. I’m personally pretty excited to see Lyles become a regular part of the Nuggets’ healthy roster.
Tonight was a noble loss.
In my line of work we call a loss that occurred even when we put forth our best effort a “noble loss”. Now, I’m typically the LAST person to be okay with losing, but a loss that takes place in the midst of hard work and 4 full quarters of effort is a little easier to digest. The Nuggets still need to work on minimizing turnovers, and defense always can improve, but overall tonight was a solid performance from the good guys.