A couple of old NBA adages rang true tonight: First, it’s the NBA, everybody makes a run. The Celtics were leading by as many as 20 at one point, but if you’ve watched the NBA at all then you know: unless the 20 point lead is within the final few minutes of the game then it means virtually nothing. Everybody makes a run. In tonight’s case, there was a whole half left, and Boston simply couldn’t match the Nuggets energy during the third quarter. Denver mainly relied upon points in the paint as well as simple transition buckets for their 37 points during Q3, which were the most points the Celtics have given up in any quarter this season. That run enabled the Nuggets to keep the game within a possession as the final seconds ticked away.
Second, the Celtics will live by the three or die by the three. This isn’t anything new or specific to the Boston Celtics, but it’s a fact that it’s fans must either A) embrace or B) request it’s improved upon. Our Boston Celtics are not impervious to failure just because Brad Stevens is head coach. Brad could win without the 3 ball falling if Brad had, say, another super-skilled big man he could consistently rely on, aside from Horford; or perhaps if Brad had another elite scorer, aside from Irving. But as it stands, the Celtics success will be built upon the success of their three ball and will be at it’s mercy on a nightly basis until those reinforcements arrive.
Tonight they started (10/21) and stayed hot from behind the arc for the majority of the game. They finished 17 of 36 (47%) from outside over the course of the night, but there was no shot bigger than the last. Jaylen Brown’s clutch final three from the corner dribbled off of the rim, bounced off of the backboard, then fell through the net to break the tie in the closing seconds of the game.
They withstood the run, and they lived by the three. Embrace it. Final Score: 111-110.
The Game Flow
After Boston was held without a basket for the first few minutes of the game, the flood gates opened and the buckets started dropping. Kyrie Irving was his normal smooth-as-silk self to start the game and initially drilled both attempts from deep to correct the tone early on. Jayson Tatum showed aggressiveness early after he shake-n-baked a defender until he found the opportunity to blow by him, then finished with a pretty right-handed up and under.
On the very next possession Tatum flexed his range and sunk a wide open 3 to give the Celtics their first double-digit lead of the night. The rookie went on to finish with 20 points on 8 of 13 shooting from the field (good enough for 62%) along with 6 rebounds, 4 assists; and even impressed defensively with 2 blocks to boot.
Marcus Morris had an equally impressive start and contributed to the Celtics strong perimeter defense that stifled the Nuggets offense in the first (Denver converted just two of ten deep balls during Q1). The Celtics went into the second up 32-21 thanks in large part to Morris’ defense paired with his hot shooting (game-high 9 points after the first).
In addition to Morris, the Celtics bench was aided by Daniel Theis, who showed great patience in the post and a determination to score tonight. At one point he retrieved his own shot for an offensive rebound, pump faked, ate the contact from a falling defender, angled his body to get a better look, then finished at the rim for 2 of his 8 points for the quarter. He shot 3 of 6 from deep on the night (for a total of 11 points) to go along with his 3 rebounds and 4 assists – a gem of a game by any “reserve big” standards.
The Celtics 5 turnovers during the second quarter allowed the Nuggets to stay closer than Boston would have hoped, but a 56-45 lead going into half still felt solid at the time. The Celtics were shooting 48% from deep (10/21) while getting 22 points from their bench compared to the Nuggets getting just 9 from their own. Bench play and 3 point success is usually a good barometer of success for the Celtics, so the outlook was positive.
However, as referenced in the summary above, Boston was outworked in the third quarter yet again. The Nuggets began the quarter a perfect 7 for 7 in the paint after converting just 6 short-range shots the entire first half. Rest assured, the Celtics are going to get ripped apart when they watch this film back because NOBODY consistently hustled back on D whenever they missed, which resulted in easy baskets for Denver through out the third quarter.
Any head coach is going to understand that cold streaks happen and the team will work through them, but not running back and setting the defense is a Brad Stevens NO-NO. When the Celtics shooting went as cold as a bombocyclone in February, the Celtics didn’t respond with the energy on defense that their system requires. They were slow to return, rarely got their defense set in time, and one player was often tasked with defending 2 or 3 men in transition at once. The Celtics lost the quarter, 37-24, as well as their lead that they’d once built up. Boston went into the final frame down 75-74.
The Celtics continued to get out-rebounded by the opposition tonight, but Terry Rozier sure as hell gave it everything he had despite battling an ankle ailment (had it taped prior to tip). Terry finished with just 8 points but had 9 rebounds, including a couple in clutch situations down the stretch and a total of 4 offensive boards. Terry also tied Kyrie with a game-high 6 assists. Most importantly, perhaps, he continued to be the difference maker that the Celtics so desperately need on the defensive end – especially in light of this Marcus Smart injury.
With the Nuggets taking the lead and all of the momentum, the Celtics needed to match Rozier’s nightly energy if they wanted to return home from this West Coast trip with a .500 record; and they received contributions from just about the entire team in response. At one point even Semi Ojeyele got in the mix after he scooped up a CLUTCH offensive rebound with about 7 minutes left and the Celtics barely clinging to a 94-91 lead. They wouldn’t convert on the possession but it was clear our boys could officially smell blood in the water. They were now ready for battle. A few plays later, Kyrie led the charge as he picked up the defensive rebound only to go coast to coast and euro-step his way to the smooth finish on the other end.
The play of the game occurred shortly thereafter, though, when the score was tied and Kyrie dished to Horford near the top of the key with time quickly expiring. He drove towards the hoop and leaped only to find two defenders: one with their arms raised willing to take the beating and be awarded a charge for their team, the other rising to greet Al in the air. Horford, with his incredible basketball IQ, instead dished to the wide open Jaylen Brown who sunk the corner three which recaptured the lead, 111-108.
The shot was Jaylen’s 5th attempt from deep but the first one he hit, which Brad will surely highlight during team meetings tomorrow. He’s consistently encouraging everyone, but his two young studs in particular, to keep shooting when they’re in a funk. Jaylen Brown’s night is the perfect example of why you listen to coach. He finished with 9 points on 4 of 11 shooting, but also chipped in 6 rebounds and 4 assists to secure tonight’s win. The drama wasn’t totally over after Jaylen Brown’s 3, though.
Murray’s finger-roll answered Jaylen’s timely 3 and gave the Celtics possession with a one point lead, but Kyrie Irving drove to the basket and missed his opportunity to extend the lead. The Nuggets then retrieved the rebound down 111-110, but instead of taking a timeout, Denver opted to push the drama and run down the court with no clear plan in place. Barton heaved a last second three that a teammate attempted to alley-oop in with 0.00 flashing on the clock, and the refs immediately waved off. The Celtics had escaped. Final Score: 111-110.
Good to Know Notes
-For the first time in Boston Celtics history, seven (7!) players made a shot from three. (According to Chris Mannix on NBCSports Boston Post Game)
-Kyrie Irving: 27pts on an incredible 11 of 17 shooting (64.7FG%) / Tied for Game-High 6 Assists
-Jokic and Horford both missed the last game between these two teams. One player vastly outplayed the other on the offensive end this game. Jokic: 24pts on 8 of 17 shooting (47FG%), Game-High 11 rebounds, with 5 assists // Horford: 10pts on 4 of 12 shooting (33.3FG%) 4 rebounds, while tying for Game-High 6 assists
-The final shot was the first three Jaylen had made in 5 attempts from deep through out the night, and it ultimately salvaged this West Coast road trip for his team. The Celtics will now return home with an even 2-2 record from their trip.
The amount of times Kyrie has done this to his defender this year is ridiculous.
I mean, he was clearly tripped up, but it’s still nice to see those moves from Jay-Tay.
Tatum giving the Celtics fans in the building something to cheer about as we neared the fourth quarter.