Everything you need to know about the Celtics’ 112-99 win over the Nuggets with BSJ insight and analysis
Nikola Jokic went off but Boston answered with energy: Jokic barely missed, shooting 16 of 23 from the field on his way to 43 points, but every time he carried his undermanned Nuggets team within striking distance, the Celtics found the energy to answer the Denver run and then some. After a completely listless loss, it was important to come back and simply play better basketball.
"I thought we handled their runs well and stayed the course throughout the whole game," Brad Stevens said. "The ball moved right out of the gate, even though we weren't making shots in the first couple of minutes the ball was popping around the way that it hasn't been. We rewarded guys for running more than we have in the last few weeks and we rewarded guys for cutting. That's a huge part of team-ness and making the right play and all that other stuff."
Boston's role players came through: Boston's starters accounted for about 60 percent of the scoring but Robert Williams, Payton Pritchard, Aaron Nesmith, and Semi Ojeleye all played important roles in stopping Nuggets runs.
"I feel like the bench brought great energy," Williams said. "I feel like it was all around just positive vibes, something we've been talking about."
After Jokic tied the game at 71 in the third quarter, Boston closed the final 4:09 on a 15-4 run. Pritchard assisted on four baskets in that stretch, three of them for 3's.
Aaron Nesmith: His energy early was a huge boost for the Celtics. Most importantly, he came in with a defensive mindset, playing very well in an area that he struggled with earlier this season. He also hit two huge 3-pointers early on; one after securing an offensive rebound which gave Boston a lead back in the first quarter and another that snapped a 10-0 Nuggets run to preserve a lead heading into halftime. He also had one of those "dive on the floor" plays everyone loves.
"I think it was a momentum changer," Nesmith said. "Plays like that always get the team hyped, the team that turned it over, they put their head down and went back on defense. We took advantage of that and I think we scored, Payton had an and-one. That play straight into an and-one is pretty demoralizing for the opposing team so definitely took that and ran with it."
Robert Williams: Much like Nesmith, Williams' energy was key in this win. He finished with FIVE steals. Williams was not good against Washington, but he bounced back to do a little bit of everything in this game, including hitting all four shots that he took. Amazingly, the one thing he didn't do in this game was block a shot.
Payton Pritchard: The rookie was a steady hand, dishing out seven assists (including those four very important ones in the third quarter). He also had a very fancy and-1 finish.
Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker's shooting: We can't let Walker and Tatum escape without noting that their combined 11-31 was not good. On the positive side, Tatum did get to the line eight times, so he was able to make up for the scoring there, and he dished a team-high eight assists.
TWO TAKES KARALIS WILL PROBABLY REGRET LATER
This a nice palate cleanser, but nothing is fixed. This was a nice win, and an important one for the Celtics to get. It was also a win against a team missing nine guys and forced to play lineups that may never see the light of day again. Jokic is an MVP candidate, but they had almost nothing that could slow him down aside from the fatigue of carrying his decimated team. The hallmark of a very medium team is exactly what this team just did: a horrifying loss to a bad team followed by a wonderfully nice win over a good team. What will make Boston a good team is continuing the effort involved in this win. This mini-series against the Atlanta Hawks will be a nice test because while the Hawks can be pretty bad, they're not low-energy. If the Celtics relax, our heads will be right back where they were Monday morning.
Jaylen Brown's turnovers are too problematic to ignore. He had SEVEN turnovers in this game. This one was... something.
Brown has been Boston's best player this season but his great shooting and playmaking are masking some very problematic turnover games. This is his fifth game with five or more turnovers this season and he's got another four with four turnovers. Part of this is him trying to do too much, and part of it might be related to the overall malaise of a brutal February. Whatever it is, though, he needs to cut these turnovers down because they took away from an otherwise great night with 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists.