Celtics Boost League-Best Resume by Crushing Nuggets

BOSTON – Just hours after the Western Conference’s No. 2-seeded Denver Nuggets marched into TD Garden with their chests puffed out, they crawled their way off of the parquet floor after being bruised, battered and beaten by the Boston Celtics.

Put another impressive notch on Boston’s league-best resume.

Yes, it is the Celtics who have the NBA’s most impressive resume, not the Lakers or the Bucks, who each advanced 20-3 on the season Friday night.

With Boston’s 108-95 annihilation of the Denver Nuggets on Friday, which was not nearly as close as the final score indicates, it now has five victories against teams that are currently ranked in the top four of their respective conferences. The Celtics are 5-2 overall against such opponents, who along with Boston comprise the top eight seeds in the league.

No other team in that group has logged more than four such victories, and six of those seven teams have won three or fewer games against each conference’s top-four seeds.

There are only two teams from that group which the Celtics have yet to beat: the LA Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Clippers barely outlasted Boston in an overtime game Nov. 20 at home, while the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston have yet to meet.

No one in their right mind would have predicted this type of early-season success for the Celtics, and that includes their head coach, Brad Stevens. Before the season even started, Stevens knew how much of a bear his team’s early-season schedule would be, with 12 of its first 21 games on the road, and with many of those games being played against superbly talented teams.

Throw in the fact that Gordon Hayward (13 games), Enes Kanter (seven games), Daniel Theis (three games), Jaylen Brown (two games), Kemba Walker (one game) and Marcus Smart (one game) have combined to miss 27 games due to injuries, and logic would suggest that the Celtics would be hovering just above the .500 mark.

Yet there they were Friday night, dismantling one of the top teams in the league to maintain the second-best record in the entire NBA and to log yet another premier victory.

“We’re way ahead of where I thought we would be results-wise,” Stevens admitted after the win.

Boston has reached this level of success by playing with dominant speed and force.

Every player on the Celtics roster is blessed with a high level of athleticism, led by Brown, Jayson Tatum, Walker and Smart. Hayward will add to that group upon his looming return to the lineup. This crew is putting pressure on defenses with its consistent drives, its great reads and its elite shot-making.

The Celtics asserted themselves in all of those regards from the opening tip Friday night. They scored 33 points during the first quarter and rode that momentum to the final buzzer. The team’s top three scorers, Tatum, Brown and Walker, combined to score 66 points on 26-for-50 shooting. The C’s shot 53.7 percent as a team and their starters dished out 14 assists.

Following Friday’s efficient offensive performance, the now Celtics rank ninth in the league in offensive rating.

Boston’s speed and force have also been on full display at the defensive end of the court, where it is bottling up opponents both on the perimeter and around the basket. Denver was the latest team to fall victim to the Celtics’ tenacious defense.

The Nuggets were limited to just 95 points Friday night on 41.5 percent shooting from the field. Boston forced Denver into 25 misses on 30 attempts from long distance. These offensive struggles came from a team that averaged 107.3 points per game this season heading into Friday’s contest, and one that just dropped 129 points on the Knicks Thursday night in New York.

The Celtics limited Denver to an average of 95.5 points per game during two matchups, and they now rank fourth in the league in defensive rating.

This combination of dominant offense and dominant defense is rarely found in the NBA, as is evidenced by only three teams – the Celtics, the Lakers and the Bucks – currently ranking in the top nine in both offensive and defensive rating. Boston’s combination has proven to be a significant challenge for every elite team it has faced this season, including Denver Friday night.

“They are very physical, very aggressive, and I think they are guys who wanted to continue to protect their own court, but also exact some revenge from our place a week and a half ago,” Nuggets head coach Mike Malone said, referencing a 96-92 Celtics defeat Nov. 22 in Denver. “They made us feel them all night long.”

That’s what Boston has been doing all season. That’s why the Celtics boast the most impressive resume in the entire NBA after boosting it with another impressive win Friday night against one of the league’s best teams.

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