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Recap: The Nuggets continue to ladder the standings with win over Celtics

Boston Celtics v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets had a tough task tonight, but opened the first quarter fairly well. They started the game 8-13 from the field, with Bruce Brown making a pair of 3s, and Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic finding their footing in the paint. The Celtics were running through Jaylen Brown and found some success doing that with JB starting 4-5 from the field and getting some easy looks at the rim. However, they started the game only 3-13 from beyond the arc, and were missing some fairly open looks.

Unlike the Heat game, the Nuggets capitalized on their opponents’ shooting woes though and were finding success through Jokic — the Celtics let him get defended by guards and he took advantage. In the first quarter he had 14 points on 7 shots. The bench that closed out the first quarter was Bones Hyland, KCP, Christian Braun, Vlatko Cancar, and Zeke Nnaji. Denver tried to be switchable and small to match what Boston could do. Defensively, the first quarter was fine from them, but the offense was a lot of tough shot making. The process wasn’t very good.

In a turn of events that isn’t seen very often in Nuggets’ games, the bench won their non-Jokic minutes by 5 and built a lead of 15 by the time he came back in around the 6 minute mark. Michael Malone went with a bench of Bones Hyland and switchable defenders — he might’ve found something. It had good defense, and Boston continued to struggle shooting the ball, being 3-16 from 3 before Joker subbed back in. The offense was mostly okay, but Bones did commit 3 turnovers in just 6 minutes.

When the starters got back in, they did a good job of again finding Jokic in the paint and building their offense from there. The defense was also good, forcing turnovers and holding the Celtics to a modest 45 points before a timeout from Malone with 2 minutes left before the half. However, the offense came up empty on several transition opportunities, and they missed a couple threes. The Nuggets should’ve extended their lead beyond the 13 point lead, but instead tread water — getting stops, but not scoring themselves. The last two minutes saw the starters let off the gas for a moment — the lead got down to 5 at one point, but behind Joker they got the lead back up to 8 to end the half. The Nuggets led the Celtics 62-54.

The Nuggets typically have a hard time opening third quarters, and Michael Malone usually calls a couple of rage timeouts, but the opposite happened tonight. The lead only ballooned behind Joker eviscerating the Celtics’ small ball. He got up to 25 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 dimes by the 6:21 mark of the third quarter. Bruce Brown also continued to bomb 3s, hitting 4-4 by the same mark. KCP’s first bucket of the night also came in the run to put the Nuggets up 13 and forcing the Celtics into a timeout.

After the timeout, Malone kept the starters in and staggered KCP with Christian Braun like he had in the first half — this led to minutes in which the Nuggets stayed engaged, but didn’t get ahead by much more. Michael Porter Jr. had a run himself after hitting a midrange jumper, a contested layup, and then a 3 pointer. After which, the Nuggets found themselves up 14 and Jayson Tatum got a technical. Ultimately, the Nuggets would finish the quarter up 13 and close the quarter with Bones Hyland getting to the rim and finishing an impressive layup. He had found success within the arc as opposed to him normally finding it from beyond it. Nuggets would enter the final frame with a lead of 98-85.

While the Nuggets had gotten really good minutes from the bench in the game up until the fourth quarter, the really crucial time was to open the fourth without Nikola Jokic and the second unit delivered. Bones Hyland had two 3s and led the bench unit to more positive minutes. Joker, Aaron Gordon, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope subbed in after a double technical against Bones and Jaylen Brown. With 7 minutes left, the Nuggets found themselves still up double digits and in a strong position to win against the current title favorite.

However, the great rim debacle of 2023 happened. One of the rims wasn’t level and it took 32 minutes for it to be fixed. Two halftimes had passed, two Queen songs, a round of Seven Nation Army, a healthy number of boos, and some introspection had by all. By the time it was all said and done, the Nuggets and Celtics had to warm up again. It was an experience unlike many, and I am now sick of ladders. After 40 minutes or so, the game finally resumed for the final 6:43 of the game.

The Nuggets closed the game out in relatively breezy fashion, to the point we got to see Jack White minutes. The Nuggets close out a great win against the Celtics, but the real winner were the friends we made along the way (in the 35 minutes and 19 seconds of game delay). Nikola Jokic got a triple double, Bruce Brown, MPJ, Aaron Gordon, and Bones all finished with double digit points too.