Game Preview: Celtics at Nuggets
BOSTON – What a way to begin the second half of the season. The Boston Celtics (28-24) will visit the Denver Nuggets (33-21) at 9 p.m. tonight in a rematch between two teams that went to triple overtime just nine days ago in Boston.
The thriller in TD Garden wound up in Boston’s win column thanks to some clutch shots from Jeff Green, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. It took plenty of work for the Celtics to snag that win, and as Garnett indicated after Sunday’s All-Star game, it might take even more work to grab a win tonight.
“Mentally you have to be ready for Denver,” Garnett said. “Their pace is incredible, especially when they’re at home. They’re 22-3 at home – a great home record.”
Great might be an understatement. Denver’s home record is the third-best in the NBA, trailing only San Antonio and Miami, each of which sit atop their respective conference standings.
One thing Denver isn’t nearly as great at, however, is beating Eastern Conference teams. The Nuggets are 33-21 on the season but only 11-10 against the East. As we’ve already mentioned, one of those 10 losses came in dramatic fashion against the Celtics. Boston defeated Denver 118-114 in triple overtime on Feb. 10.
The Celtics coupled their fantastic defense with four great individual offensive performances that night. Denver made only 42.5 percent of its shots in that contest and despite playing three overtime sessions, only one Nuggets player scored more than 18 points.
Boston struggled to shoot the ball as a team but several C's had major individual scoring nights. The team shot less than 40 percent from the field but Pierce (27 points), Terry (26 points) and Garnett (20 points) each broke the 20-point barrier. Green also chipped in 17 points, including his clutch 3-pointer that sent the game into a second overtime session.
Those four Celtics hit some big shots to give the Celtics momentum against the Nuggets. Those shots also helped Boston to maintain the overall momentum it had been building since the end of January. Boston has won eight of its last nine games, including the win over the Nuggets.
Continuing that momentum tonight in Denver won’t be easy, but the C’s have been exceptional at overcoming challenges as of late. No one knows that better than the Nuggets.
The Offense Must Score
One thing the Celtics will need to do tonight is score points. Denver averages a whopping 109.2 points per game at home this season, while Boston averages just 93.7 points per game on the road. The Celtics didn’t reach 109 points until the third overtime session against the Nuggets back in TD Garden nine days ago.
Do not expect Denver to take that long to break the century mark tonight. They won’t be playing in the second night of a back-to-back, as they had been when these teams first met. They’ll be playing on rested legs and in their own thin air. We all know Boston’s defense is great, but it will need its offense to keep up with the Nuggets in this game.
A Tougher Night for Pierce
Pierce had an important factor fall in his favor against the Nuggets on Feb. 10: Andre Iguodala was hampered with an injury.
Denver’s best defensive player logged less than 20 minutes of action in that game and exited for good in the third quarter due to a right cervical sprain, which is often referred to as whiplash. He had not been effective at either end of the floor to that point, logging just five points, two rebounds and four assists. Iguodala will be healthy and active for tonight’s game and that means he’ll be much more capable of harassing Pierce with great defense.
Being on the Same Page
There is one issue that always arises in the first game out of the All-Star break, and that is being on the same page. The Celtics were fortunate enough to practice together on Monday but they haven’t played in a game together in nearly a week.
Team basketball is what got the Celtics on track prior to the All-Star break. Displaying that type of team play is difficult after such a long stretch of no games. This isn’t like jumping back on a bicycle and riding away. It could take a couple of quarters, and maybe even a couple of games, to get the Celtics back on the same page.