Celtics ring in the new year with a bizarre 123-111 loss to the Nuggets

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Boston Celtics v Denver Nuggets
Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Good thing the MVP debate isn’t settled in January!

Nikola Jokic (30 points, 12 assists and 12 rebounds) put up a dominant game for the Denver Nuggets as they started the year off handing the Boston Celtics the 123-111 loss. Jaylen Brown led the way for the Celtics with 30 points and 8 rebounds while Jayson Tatum followed up with 25 points. Derrick White (13 points) had a solid game, but besides him, the Celtics couldn’t find the bottom of the basket enough to outpace the Nuggets and a top MVP candidate.

In the first quarter, Denver used its physicality to establish a quick lead. Boston got an up-close look at Nikola Jokic’s offensive prowess, but instead of his usual finesse, he was forcefully using his body to get Denver some well-earned points. Aaron Gordon (18 points, 7 rebounds) and Bruce Brown (21 points) followed his lead, punishing Boston at the rim, leading to the Nuggets shooting 67% from the field in the first and 75% from behind the 3-point line. Gordon is the exact type of wing that Tatum struggles against on both ends.

For Boston, it was good offensive process, but the shots are way off. The altitude definitely seemed to have an effect on the team, leading to a slow start for everyone not named Jaylen Brown. The Celtics looked like they were starting to get things going in the second quarter, but then things fell apart pretty quickly after a bizarre basket interference call on Robert Williams, who injected some energy into the lethargic lineup after he subbed in. Denver started playing even faster, and Boston lost the non-Jokic minutes pretty badly.

It’s tough to beat Denver when your best player is extremely off and every open shot is an airball. Also, this was a pretty bad Marcus Smart game. Although he came out aggressive, his shot-making was pretty bad. His 7 assists led the team, but between Smart and Malcolm Brogdon, the Celtics were lacking in PG production tonight.

For as physical as Denver came out, in hindsight, it may have been a better move for Joe Mazzulla to start Grant Williams over Derrick White. As great as White’s defense has been this season, this is more of a Grant matchup than anything, and Williams proved that in his minutes. The defense tightened up as Boston went to last year’s big starting lineup. Really makes you think!

Side note, the cool thing about Jayson Tatum is that he can play absolutely awful to start a game and still end the first half with 14 points and 4 rebounds on 44% shooting. Truly a special talent.

Boston started Grant Williams in the third over Derrick White in an attempt to fight back against Denver’s interior presence. The results were . . . mixed. The group was a -5 in the first 6 minutes of the quarter. Boston’s shotmaking improved a bit, but the defense continued to suffer. Boston’s defense was truly getting taken advantage of almost every trip down. On the other end, Denver’s smart doubles on Tatum led to some difficult positioning as other Celtics struggled to knock down open shots.

Meanwhile, Denver’s shooting was already good before the half and somehow got even better in the late third and early fourth. Every time the Celtics were poised to get some momentum going, a random Bones Hyland (17 points, 4 assists) three would drop. Either him or Michael Porter Jr. (19 points) would hurt the Celtics at the worst times. Boston only had enough in the tank to not get fully blown out.

The game’s score was 110-97 Nuggets with 6:43 left when Denver staff came out to adjust Boston’s rim to make sure it was perfectly level. The delay lasted about 40 minutes, and that was pretty much the only thing that could cool off Denver’s insane shooting. Unfortunately, Boston’s shooting didn’t get much better either. The final score was 123-111.

There’s not too much to read into in regards to this game. The Celtics had a bad shooting variance game, and the rim debacle makes this a fake result (let me cook). It’s a disappointing result, but after the Celtics came out flat, they were mostly fine for a good chunk of the game. It’s a make-miss league, so hopefully the Celtics make more than they miss as their road trip progresses to OKC, Dallas and San Antonio.

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