Nuggets Strike Gold vs. C's Inconsistent Defense

DENVER – The altitude was a mile high during Boston’s matchup with the Nuggets Friday night in Denver. Unfortunately for the guys in green, so was Denver’s scoring total.

The Nuggets shot 52.9 percent on the night en route to a resounding 119-99 victory over Boston. They scored 35 points during the first quarter, 65 during the first half, and 94 through the first three quarters alone.

As Brad Stevens put it, “They had us on our heels all night.”

Isaiah Thomas, who led Boston with 21 points and five assists in the game, gave his take as to why, exactly, Denver had its way on offense.

“They didn’t feel us,” Thomas, clearly frustrated, commented after the defeat. “They were comfortable. Also they got to every loose ball. They were the hardest-playing team.”

Boston’s defensive performance was in stark contrast to the one it put forth just two nights prior against Golden State. The Celtics limited the Warriors, the NBA’s top offensive team, to a season-low 86 points in Oakland. Denver surpassed that total by eight points during the first three quarters alone Friday night.

The greatest reason for Denver’s success, according to Brad Stevens, was its matchup advantages.

“They’re a hard team for us to match up with,” the coach said.

Harder than the defending Western-Conference champions?

“Even a team like Golden State on Wednesday,” Stevens added, “I thought we matched up a little better than with these guys. We thought it was going to be hard to defend them.”

And it was.

Three of Denver’s starters scored at least 20 points, led by Wilson Chandler’s 23. The Nuggets made Boston pay for each of its mistakes, be it ducking under a screen or losing a player on a back-cut or drive.

“Giving up those uncontested layups, either via the cut – and again, (Nikola) Jokic is a tremendous passer – or the drive, which was disappointing a few times in the second quarter,” said Stevens. They just got to the rim without anybody getting in front of them.”

The defeat leaves Boston wondering why it was able to play at such a high level Wednesday night against the Warriors, and then “lay an egg,” as Avery Bradley termed it, Friday night in Denver.

“It doesn’t make sense,” a confused Bradley said.

What the Celtics understand is that this is nothing new for them. They have been consistently inconsistent all season long, and that message was relayed time after time following Friday’s loss.

“It’s something that we’re struggling with right now,” Al Horford said of playing consistent, high-level basketball. “If you look at our team, it’s been like this for most of the year.”

Thomas added, “All year we haven’t been that consistent for the most part. If we can turn that switch and be consistent, we could be a really good team.”

This has been the prevailing belief throughout the season within Boston’s locker room. It has acknowledged time and time again that it must locate and deliver consistency in order to reach its goals, yet Friday was the latest example of consistency remaining as a missing piece of the team’s fabric.

So how, exactly, do the Celtics change that? Thomas has a plan.

“Just fix it. It’s enough talk,” he said. “We only have like 16 more games left. It’s way past talking time. We’ve got to just do it.”

Boston has not ‘done it’ yet, as evidenced by Denver’s mile-high scoring total Friday night. But the beauty of the schedule is that the C’s will be right back on the court Sunday afternoon in Boston, with its latest opportunity to locate that evasive consistency they’ve been seeking to find all season long.

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