Celtics Ride Positive Vibes to Critical Win Over Jokic, Nuggets

Brad Stevens was excited before Tuesday night’s tip-off against the Denver Nuggets. He and Celtics Nation can be excited after it, as well.

Boston was coming off of back-to-back dreadful losses over the weekend to two of the East’s bottom-dwellers. Stevens was anxious to see how his team would respond – and respond it did.

The Celtics bounced back in a big way by logging a convincing 112-99 victory over MVP candidate Nikola Jokic and his Nuggets team that advanced to the Western Conference Finals just a few short months ago inside the bubble. The Celtics did not trail at any point over the final three-plus quarters and led by double-digits for nearly the entirety of the final period before closing out their victory.

This performance, rife with positive energy and exceptional effort, was a complete 180 from the weekend for Boston. It was just what the doctor ordered for the reeling Celtics.

“We need wins like that,” said Jaylen Brown, who scored a team-best 27 points. “Some wins against some good opponents that fire us up and things like that, because that can carry over to next games and stuff like that.”

That’s the hope inside of Boston’s locker room and out on the streets of Boston. Tuesday was a sign of what the Celtics should be on a nightly basis, as they’re led by two soon-to-be 2021 All-Stars in Brown and Jayson Tatum.

What this team was Tuesday night was a group that wanted to play the right way. It was clear from the opening tip that the Celtics were in an unselfish state of mind and were motivated to play with effort at both ends. As evidence, they logged seven assists during the first quarter alone – half the amount they logged during all of Sunday’s ugly loss to Washington – and they finished with 28 on the night.

“The ball moved right out of the gate,” Stevens commented. “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 more than we have in the last few weeks, and that’s a huge part of teamness and making the right play and all that other stuff.”

That other stuff is also related to the other end of the court, where Boston excelled against a strong opponent for the first time in a long time.

Tuesday’s defensive rating of 101.0 was the team’s best of the season against a team with a winning record, and it was Boston’s sixth-best of the season overall. This defensive performance was logged against a Denver team that entered Tuesday’s contest ranked fifth in the league in scoring with an average of 115.5 points per game. The Celtics did not slow down Jokic, who scored 43 points on 16-for-23 shooting, but they did tighten the defensive screws on all of the big man’s teammates.

In Brown’s eyes, defensive efforts like Tuesday’s are what will carry the Celtics to a successful future.

“I think talking, communicating helps a lot, but also just really, really focusing on the defensive side of the basketball,” said Brown. “I think when we get stops and stuff like that, offense seems to kind of just flow a little bit better.”

And when the Celtics are playing ball like that, as they did Tuesday night, they’re hard to beat, and they’re a team full of “positive vibes,” as reserve center Rob Williams termed it.

“I feel like the bench obviously brought great energy, but I feel like it was all around, really just positive vibes,” said Williams. “Something we’ve been talking about.”

Pressed further on what he meant by that comment, the third-year big man said, “Just picking each other up, man. Not falling into selfish ways. Not falling into your own mind. Just staying in each other’s ears, always, and always promoting positivity.”

Ahh, yes, positivity. That had been missing from these Celtics over the last few weeks, and in particular, over the weekend. They were back Tuesday night, however, and now Boston feels rejuvenated heading into Wednesday’s matchup with the Atlanta Hawks.

Sometimes, all a team needs is one game to turn things around. That might be why Stevens was so anxious to watch his team’s response Tuesday night, and that’s definitely why Celtics Nation is far more excited about its team heading into Wednesday than it was coming out of the weekend.

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