Preview: Denver Nuggets end homestand vs. Boston Celtics

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The Denver Nuggets had to sweat it out at the end of their game against the San Antonio Spurs Friday night, but several missed shots by San Antonio in the final seconds secured an eighth-consecutive victory for the Mile High crew.

Nikola Jokić once again led the way with his 13th triple-double of the season (26 points, 14 assists, 13 rebounds), while Michael Porter Jr. (22 points) and Monte Morris (21 points) chipped into the offensive effort. Denver racked up 32 assists on the night and shot 51.9 percent from beyond the arc.

MORE: Takeaways from win over Spurs

Now the Nuggets (34-18) end their homestand against the struggling Boston Celtics Sunday afternoon.

Boston (27-26) could be considered to be one of the most disappointing teams of the 2020-21 campaign, as the Celtics currently sit in seventh in the Eastern Conference and have struggled with consistency this season.

The Celtics won the first meeting between these two teams this season, a 112-99 victory back on Feb. 16.

Projected starters: Facundo Campazzo, Will Barton III, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić

TUNE-IN: 1 p.m. MT, NBA TV and Altitude TV, 92.5FM

Key matchup: Nikola Jokić vs. Robert Williams III

The Celtics traded Daniel Theis away at the trade deadline and have been going with Williams III at the center spot in their starting lineup from that point on.

Williams III has responded well, with averages of 10.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in April, on 75 percent shooting from the field.

However, Williams III is listed at just 6’8”, which opens up some advantages for Jokić, who carved up Boston’s defense for 43 points on 16-of-23 shooting from the field back in February.

Another aspect the Serbian big man can take advantage of in this matchup is that Williams III has been prone to fouling often with this larger role. In April, the 23-year-old is averaging 3.4 fouls per game, and he may struggle with Jokić’s plethora of post moves Sunday afternoon.

The battle on the offensive glass

Sunday’s matchup will pit two of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league against each other.

Denver ranks second in offensive rebound percentage at 29 percent, while Boston isn’t too far behind at 27.6 percent, which is good for fourth in the league.

Since both teams don’t get to the free-throw line often, grabbing offensive rebounds for second chance opportunities is a key ingredient for both teams having success on the offensive end of the floor.

However, Denver may have the upper hand in this matchup as a result of being a better defensive rebounding team this season. The Nuggets rank 13th in opponent offensive rebound percentage (24.8 percent), while the Celtics are 20th at 25.8 percent.

Slow down Jayson Tatum

Boston’s leading scorer is coming off one of the most impressive performances in the NBA this season, a 53-point showing Friday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Tatum shot 64 percent from the field and 60 percent from beyond the arc, while he also chipped in 10 rebounds.

The 23-year-old forward continues to shine in his fourth season, averaging a career-high 25.3 points per game to go along with 7.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists per contest. However, those numbers have been even better as of late, as Tatum has averaged 28.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game over the past 10 contests.

Now that Boston has been deploying a smaller starting lineup, Tatum often slots in at the four spot, so look for Aaron Gordon to receive the majority of time matching up against the dynamic scorer. Although Gordon has had a few quiet nights on the offensive end this week, he continues to be Denver’s primary wing defender and gives the Nuggets a chance at slowing Tatum down Sunday.

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