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Recap: Nuggets battle to win over Celtics; Walker injured

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The Nuggets were able to survive against the Celtics, who rallied after Kemba Walker left the game with an injury in the second quarter.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets held on in the fourth quarter to win a big home game over the Boston Celtics, 96-92, banding together to hold off a furious late rally.

Nikola Jokic picked up another triple-double with 18 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists, while Jamal Murray dropped in 22 points, 6 boards, and 5 assists, with some clutch baskets and free throws late, to help secure the win. The Nuggets defense was outstanding in the first half, holding their opponent to a season-low 34 points and keeping their opponent under 100 points for a second consecutive game.

The Nuggets and Celtics started with some strong defensive possessions, but Jokic was able to knock in a midrange jumper to open the scoring. The Nuggets were able to lock down the Celtics for the first five minutes, with only one made field goal in ten attempts, and the good guys started with a 9-2 run. Jokic had a great 90-foot pass to Will Barton, who knocked down a 3-pointer, and had Celtics coach Brad Stevens walking out on the court to call timeout as soon as the ball ripped through the net.

The Nuggets didn’t let off their defensive pressure after the timeout. The Nuggets run continued on, fueled by an offense with the ball moving around the court to find open shooters and a defense that wasn’t letting the Celtics getting off any easy looks. The Celtics missed 16 of their first 21 shots, and were only able to score 13 points in the first quarter. Jokic out-rebounded the entire Boston team in the quarter, and helped lead the team to a 27-13 lead.

The reserves came out and were able to get some stops, but kind of scuffled around on offense with their “full Monte” lineup of Morris-MPJ-Juancho-Grant-Plumlee. Jerami Grant hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key, and MPJ was able to force a jump ball when Jaylen Brown tried to drive to the rim on him. The Celtics were about to generate some points by attacking Juancho on drives from the perimeter, taking advantage of their wings advantage in speed to break down the defense and power a small run, cutting the lead to nine points.

The starters began to trickle back on the court, but the Celtics ramped up the physicality (Denver’s kryptonite!) and they were able to go on an 11-0 run. The run ended unfortunately for the Celtics, with their star point guard being carried off the court on a stretcher after stumbling into his teammate Semi Ojeleye and crumpling to the court.

After what felt like an eternity of 20,000 people holding their breath, both teams were asked to resume play after watching their brother leave the court stabilized on a stretcher. Jokic had a couple baskets, fighting through a lot of contact from Theis that was ignored by Tony Brothers to help the Nuggets avoid having a really poor quarter. Will Barton was able to hit a buzzer-beater 3-pointer to help push the Nuggets lead back to double digits, and they went into the locker room at halftime up 45-34.

Jamal Murray made a couple nice plays to start off the third quarter, getting back-to-back steals and scoring a basket in between the two swipes. The Nuggets were able to get their first free throw attempts of the game after Jokic was fouled on an offensive rebound, a remarkable accomplishment by the referees. Barton had a huge dunk after his man missed on a lunge for a steal, and the Nuggets were able to gradually increase their lead before the reserves could get back in.

Gary Harris had a nice drive into the paint, faking a pass mid-air as he caught a pass, blowing past his defender, then dishing the ball off to Jokic for an easy floater. Murray was fouled by Wanamaker on a cut, and had to get his ankle looked at during the timeout. MPJ made a long jumper, then turned the ball over when he fumbled a pass and stepped out of bounds. The good-bad cycle for MPJ continue to roll along, with the rookie catching a miss from Morris and flushing it home for two points to end the quarter. The Nuggets barely won the quarter, and entered the final period of the game with a 70-57 lead.

The Nuggets offense came out lethargic once again with their bench unit in the game, struggling to get movement on offense and missing shots. Will Barton had to take over, working with Mason Plumlee in the two-man game to try to keep the team in the lead as the Celtics bench continued to rally possession after possession. The Celtics continued to scrap back against the Nuggets, as the Nuggets offense continued to be stymied. The failure to execute anything resembling a NBA offense continued to spell trouble for the Denver, and with six minutes left, it was a four-point game.

The Celtics were able to get within one point, but Jokic was able to secure an offensive rebound, and was fouled by Robert Williams III, cashing in on both free throws to give the Nuggets a little breathing room. Marcus Smart stonewalled Jokic in the post, then was able to get the rebound and fling the ball to Tatum for a transition layup. Millsap bullied his way to a hoop and the harm, converting the free throw. The Celtics answered right back, drawing within one with a Jaylen Brown 3-pointer. Jamal Murray had a monumental series, deflecting a pass to create a turnover, then burying a long 2-pointer to give Denver a five-point lead. Murray was able to get into the teeth of the defense, kick out to Millsap for a 3-pointer, which gave Denver a six-point lead with 45 seconds left. Jamal Murray made another long mid-range jumper to bump the lead up to five, and that was enough for the Nuggets to hold on for the win.

Three things I noticed

The Celtics are a really good team. They don’t have enough rim protection, but they sure do make it hard to get into the paint. While it was frustrating to watch the Nuggets shoot jumper after jumper, they kept turning the ball over when they’d try to go inside against the Celtics. The Nuggets needed to get a big game from Jokic, and their big man came through when it mattered most.

What a game from Jamal Murray. This wasn’t a huge offensive performance, or even a sterling defensive performance, but Murray was able to take over the game at a couple crucial points of this game. He came out after the opening tip and had a great run in the first quarter, and then closed the game like a cold-blooded assassin. Those long jumpers were reminiscent of a former All-Star guard that was one of the greatest to ever play the game. An outstanding performance when it mattered from the Nuggets point guard.

Thoughts and prayers to Kemba Walker. That was a scary injury. In a totally fluke incident, Walker stumbled into his own teammate and suffered an injury that required him to be removed from the game on a stretcher. Walker was taken to a hospital where he was diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms. You don’t want to see players get seriously injured, and this seems to keep happening to Celtics players. When things like this happen, it goes beyond wins and losses, and you just have to wish the best for the Celtics guard. Here’s hoping he’s going to be okay, and well enough to play against the Nuggets when the two teams play again in a couple weeks.

Prediction

I predicted Nuggets 102 - Celtics 100. Not too bad this time around!