IN A NUTSHELL
This game was weird. Between the emotional intensity of the tribute to current-Nugget-but-forever-a-Celtic Isaiah Thomas, the exciting closeness of the contest for much of its runtime and the anticlimactic fashion in which it ended, it ultimately felt like whiplash.
It’s also hard for me to gauge the ultimate significance or lack thereof of this Boston loss, which Denver handed our heroes by a 114-105 margin. Obviously it sucks in the moment; games your favorite team loses due to short but impactful stretches of stupid play in an otherwise respectable performance always do. Does it really matter in the longer term, in which the Celtics and Brad Stevens need to worry in minute detail about their matchups with East teams like the Pacers, Bucks and Raptors than anything else? No, it does not. This loss certainly showed notable faults on Boston’s part, but it wasn’t anywhere near the stomach-churning embarrassments of the team’s defeats from immediately after the All-Star break.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
- Al Horford had a mostly excellent game (20-6-6-1-1) his shooting efficiency representing a beacon of stability in a sometimes uncertain Boston offense. His long-range shooting (50 percent on 8 attempts) also looked more confident than it has in some time—not a moment too soon, because the Cs will need it if they don’t want to die in the first round.
- Kyrie Irving, by contrast, was not nearly as efficient due to a clunky first half but still racked up a monster line (30-5-4-4-1). I was also struck by his tenacity down the stretch. Not like such effort is alien to him by any means, but he, Horford and Marcus Smart simply wouldn’t quit even when everything became a foregone conclusion.
- The team did well in getting to the line, which is not always a 2019 Celtics specialty. This was a significant factor in keeping the game close.
- Defense was a mixed bag. Boston definitely appeared to force Denver into poor offense and/or turnovers multiple times (most notably the Smarf Dive, which we will discuss later) and keeping the latter squad to something under 120 points is an achievement unto itself…
WHAT WENT WRONG
- …On the other hand, there was The Run of Misery, that 11-0 Nuggets scoring tear that bridged the end of Q3 and beginning of Q4 and scrambled the Celtics’ brains. That was the biggest thing; the rest of the failures were all isolated moments of horror.
- But…Jaysus wept, we had Mason freaking Plumlee aka Literally the Lamest Dunk Contest Entrant Ever making smooth assists, Paul Millsap’s old ass making Dirk fadeaways (congrats, btw), NBA-hipster-Twitter’s favorite backup point guard Monte Morris spinning Celtics defenders like a top…it was really bad.
- Jayson Tatum had a pretty meh shooting night, yet also tied Kyrie in assists (6) and led the team in rebounding (7); this illustrates not any specific fault of Tatum’s but how utterly crap the Celtics’ rebounding was (Nuggets outrebounded them 51-37); sorry Jayson you were not really the problem here.
- Mook Morris blowing that inbounds pass was both demoralizing and indicative of the need for Brad to try Jaylen Brown in the starting lineup again. Just give it a goddamn try!
WHAT THE HELL
- There’s a very feasible universe in which Isaiah Thomas gets some of Will Barton’s minutes on the Nuggets and that team is not substantially harmed. Nor would it be substantially benefited, at least not right now, but I.T. getting reps like that is the only way he’s ever going to be anything near what he was in that supernova 2016-17 season, for any team. Also, Barton—another entrant in the Crap Dunk Contest Entrants’ Hall of Fame—just seems like an overrated dingus, doesn’t he? Maybe it’s just me.
- Jamal Murray earns his place on the list of People Foolish Enough to Think Marcus Smart is Not About That Life Despite Ample Evidence that Marcus Smart is Clearly About That Life. Murray is an annoying dickhead as a personality and boasts all the basketball consistency of melting store-brand ice cream, so one good thing about tonight’s game was that Murray had little to do with the Denver win.
GREEN FIRE HIGHLIGHTS
Would be remiss not to include this:
This counts as Smart dunking on Jokic, right? I mean how can it not?
THE SMARF DIVE.
Kyrie-Al mind-melding magic:
Fuck Jamal Murray.