The Denver Nuggets EARNED a much needed victory against a strong Boston Celtics team, 119-99. Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Nikola Jokic lead the Nuggets with 20+ points each, while Jokic added 10 rebounds, seven assists, and four steals. Denver limited Isaiah Thomas to just 21 points, a major reason why Boston was held to under 100 points.

The Nuggets got back some reinforcements in the front court: Danilo Gallinari and Nikola Jokic returned to the starting lineup for this one, while Kenneth Faried continued to sit with back spasms. Jokic immediately made his presence felt with an offensive rebound and put back dunk for the first points of the game. The Celtics were using Amir Johnson to press Jokic early in this game to get the ball out of his hands, a strategy that has been utilized occasionally. Most of the early possessions went to Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, and while they weren’t all successful, crashing the glass and playing tough defense helped the Nuggets to a 9-2 lead early. A quick timeout helped the Celtics back into it though.

At this point, both teams went blow for blow in a stretch of great execution. There was very little sloppy play, and both teams made their possessions count. Gallo and Jokic each made their presence felt for Denver, while Avery Bradley led the Celtics effort early. After Gallo and Jokic both went out, Chandler became the focal point of the offense and played very aggressively. He really set the tone for the second unit, and the group played very well around him. The first quarter ended nicely with a 35-25 Nuggets advantage.

The Nuggets kept the pedal to the medal in the second quarter with contributions coming from multiple sources. The full bench lineup of Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Juancho Hernangomez, Darrell Arthur, and Mason Plumlee played very well, with solid defense all around. Each player had open looks generated for them, and it wasn’t just one guy this group was relying on, a solid sign for a bench unit.

The starters began to file back in at around the six minute mark, but Jamal Murray stayed out there and made his presence felt. With a couple of good defensive possessions and strong drives to the rim, Murray helped Denver maintain its lead. Avery Bradley continued to be the Celtics’ most consistent offensive player, but Denver’s offense was clicking, while Isaiah Thomas had just seven points in the first half. The Celtics finished the half up on a slight run, but a Jokic three kept the score at 65-54 going into halftime.

Gallinari kicked off the second half with a three pointer, and things continued to get chippy. After a nice Jokic runner falling away, Marcus Smart did what Marcus Smart does best and caused a fight, earning a double technical between him and Chandler, as well as a Michael Malone technical. Thomas must have heard me, as he scored the first 10 Celtics points. Denver continued to respond though. Jokic continued to distribute, going on triple-double watch quickly, and while the Celtics continued to run through Thomas, Denver countered successfully with Jokic, who even got in a nice swat.

As the benches filed in, movement stopped a little bit for the Nuggets, but Chandler continued to be the alpha dog on the second unit. He had 22 points after three quarters, and the Nuggets led the Celtics 94-80 after the third.

The fourth quarter started in a very congested way for Denver. The Nuggets struggled to create efficient offense with the initial group, and the Celtics were rattling them. Then, a Gallo three really sparked things for Denver, and they regained composure. The teams battled back and forth, but for every punch Boston threw, Denver threw a counter. All the way down to the four minute mark in the fourth quarter, the teams stayed locked into a 10-15 point Nuggets advantage. The game remained chippy, but Denver had things in control. Gallinari, Chandler, and Jokic were incredible on both sides tonight. The Nuggets won a HUGE game, 119-99.

Three Takeaways

Playoff Atmosphere

This is the kind of urgency that Michael Malone has been begging for all season. Against a quality opponent, one of the top five teams in the NBA in my estimation, the Nuggets came out and took it to them early, and then kept up the pace throughout. This was just a FUN game to watch, regardless of the outcome, due to the intensity the home team played with throughout the contest. If Denver can keep this up, whether they make the playoffs or not, the final 17 games will be fun to watch.

Reinforcements were needed

Danilo Gallinari and Nikola Jokic came in and completely changed the game for Denver. The Nuggets went back to what was working, and between those two and Chandler throughout, Denver had the trio of scorers they needed, with at least one on the floor for most of the game. The Nuggets played through their guys throughout, and it helped earn a much needed victory.

Let’s take this momentum onward

The defense from the Nuggets was stellar. The offensive execution was steady. The team relied on multiple players to score and multiple players to defend, which is how they need to continue to play if they want to make the playoffs. The win tonight was exceptional…

Now what?

Now, the Nuggets have even more work to do. This can’t just be a flash in the pan. The Portland Trail Blazers and the Dallas Mavericks are nipping at Denver’s heels. The Minnesota Timberwolves just beat the Golden State Warriors. Now, how will Denver respond? They are about to go through the most difficult schedule of any of the above teams. Can they pull it out? Let’s see.

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