Game Preview: Nuggets at Celtics

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BOSTON – Winter snowstorm Nemo won’t prevent the Boston Celtics (26-23) from taking the floor at 6 p.m. Sunday evening in TD Garden.

Especially when the opponent happens to be the Denver Nuggets (33-18).

Boston has been recovering this weekend from a brutal storm that dumped several feet of snow on the area. Roads and mass transit were closed for nearly a day, causing the Celtics to cancel their practice on Saturday. The Nuggets, who are far too familiar with heavy snowfall in their own neck of the woods, pushed through the storm and were still able to make it into town on Saturday, which means that Sunday's game will be played as scheduled.

We’re all lucky that the weather won’t interfere with this matchup, because it should be a great one to watch.

The Celtics and Nuggets are officially the two hottest teams in the league and they’ll both head into Sunday’s game with lengthy winning streaks. Boston has won six in a row, including wins over powerhouse squads like the Heat, Clippers and Lakers. Denver, meanwhile, has won a league-best nine games in a row and six of those victories came against teams that currently have a winning record.

Those winning streaks will result in a lot of confidence being brought to the Garden on Sunday. The Celtics’ confidence is bred in part by their wins, but more so because of the way they’re playing in those wins. They have pinpointed a style of basketball that suits their players and skills, and that is easing the minds of those players while they’re on the floor.

“I just like the way we’re playing,” Doc Rivers said after Thursday’s win over the Lakers. “I like our vibe and our spirit. We’re just… we’re playing selfless and free, and that’s how we have to be.”

It sounded like Rivers was doing his best Tom Petty impression, but his statement is true. When the Celtics play as a team at both ends of the floor, especially with their high level of talent, they’re very difficult to beat. The players have processed that fact and that’s why they’re playing with such confidence despite the losses of Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger.

“Our guys just think they’re good, and they’re going to keep playing,” Rivers said of his players. “They didn’t ever doubt themselves. When you lose guys like Rondo and Sully, I get that (outside expectations will drop), but the guys in the locker room just – they like what they are.”

The same can be said for George Karl and the Nuggets. They play a similar style of basketball as the Celtics in the sense that they are incredibly balanced and play team ball. Six Denver players are averaging at least 10.1 points per game this season, led by Danilo Gallinari’s 17.1 points a night. Three players also average at least 4.6 assists per game and six average at least 4.8 rebounds a night.

This is nothing new for Karl’s team. The Nuggets have been very competitive for several seasons now thanks to their great depth and balance. This season, however, they’ve added a key piece in Andre Iguodala and they seem primed to make a run in the Western Conference.

Denver and Boston are hot and there doesn’t seem to be anything that can stop either of them – not even Nemo. Only one of these teams, however, will be able to walk out of the Garden on Sunday with a winning streak intact.

Pierce’s Performance Against Iggy

It’s no secret that Iguodala is one of the most talented wing defenders this league has seen over the last decade. It’s also no secret that Paul Pierce is one of the most talented wing scorers this league has ever seen – and he has been on fire of late.

Pierce has made 46 percent of his shots over his last five games en route to 17.6 PPG. He’s also chipping in 8.8 RPG and 5.4 APG over that span. The Celtics are running the offense through him and it’s working to their advantage.

“He’s just got great rhythm,” Rivers said of Pierce. “He’s making shots. He’s getting a lot of the same shots and they’re going in. The ball’s in his hands far more, which helps him.”

It will be Iguodala’s job to slow Pierce down tonight. The two players have battled it out for years in the Atlantic Division. Now they’ll meet again on Sunday, and the winner of their battle may decide the winner of the game.

Boston’s Crowd

Weekend games are usually reserved for the rowdiest crowds in Boston, but things may be different on Sunday.

People across New England have gone through a lot since Thursday night, when Nemo began to hit the area. Many households have been without power and a limited amount of people have traveled outside of their respective neighborhoods. Making it to the Garden might not be at the top of the priority list and even if it is, it could be difficult to get there.

The hope is that the effects of this storm will be cleaned up in time to allow Celtics fans to flock to Causeway Street, but the reality is that it may not happen at the level we’d typically expect.

Boston’s Defense

Boston’s defense has been impenetrable of late, limiting its last 10 opponents to just 92.8 PPG and 42.5 percent shooting. That defense is going to have its hands full on Sunday.

The Nuggets possess one of the most high-powered offenses in the league. Six Denver players average double-figure scoring numbers and the team ranks third in the league in overall scoring with 104.7 PPG. The Nuggets have scored at least 100 points in nine consecutive games. They’ve averaged 114.6 PPG during their nine-game winning streak and they recently scored 128 points against the Bulls, who many consider to be the best defensive team in the league.

The Celtics can defend with the best of them, but Denver’s offense seems to be humming at an unprecedented level. Boston’s ability, or inability, to slow the Nuggets down will be a critical factor in this game.