Denver Nuggets 96, Boston Celtics 92: Three takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Once again, the Denver Nuggets found themselves in a defensive battle that came down to the final minute. And once again, the Nuggets prevailed with a 96-92 win over the Boston Celtics. After three quarters full of missed shots, the two teams traded baskets down the stretch in a nail-biting affair, but Denver was able to come up clutch when it mattered most.

"This was an ugly win," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "Our defense was great, but we let them get back into the game. But down the stretch, guys stepped up and made some big plays and shots and we were able to escape with a win over a great team."

Denver thoroughly controlled the game on both ends of the floor in the first quarter. The Nuggets’ defense held Boston to 13 points on 5-of-21 shooting from the field, while Denver’s offense connected on 54.5 percent of its shot attempts in the 27-point quarter. The Nuggets also thrived on the boards in the quarter, as they outrebounded Boston 17-7 in the frame. Each of Denver’s starters scored at least four points in the quarter.

The Nuggets increased their lead to 17 in the opening minutes of the second quarter. Denver’s second unit continued to maintain the team’s lockdown defense against Boston, who shot 2-of-11 in the first five minutes of the frame. While the Celtics were on an 11-0 run down the stretch of the quarter, Kemba Walker collided headfirst with teammate and had to leave the game for good. After the timeout, Denver regained some momentum to close the half and took a 45-34 lead into the break.

A 14-6 run extended Denver’s lead to 19 points in the early stages of the second half. Once again, it was the defense that led the way for the Nuggets, as their ability to end possessions with a rebound or generate a turnover led to scoring opportunities in transition. The Celtics slowly worked their way back into the game and eventually cut Denver’s lead down to 70-57 after three.

The Celtics stormed back into the game to begin the fourth quarter. A 16-5 run brought Boston within two points with just over five minutes remaining, which prompted a timeout from coach Michael Malone. Denver’s offense struggled to get clean looks off as the Celtics ramped up their defense, which led to several baskets in transition.

The Nuggets saw their lead fall to just one point with just over two minutes remaining, but key shots from Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap helped Denver escape with their fourth-consecutive win. Murray finished with 22 points on the night, including eight down the stretch to secure the victory.

"I thought he (Murray) took advantage of the moment and wasn't afraid of the moment, which is great to see," Malone added.

Here are the key takeaways from Denver’s win:

Defense continued to lead the way

Heading into tonight’s game, Boston owned the league’s seventh-ranked offense. However, as Denver did on Wednesday against the high-powered offense of the Houston Rockets, the Celtics were unable to get in a rhythm all night and struggled to a 92-point performance. It marked the second consecutive game in which the Nuggets held their opponent to their season-low in points.

It was also the eighth time the Nuggets have held their opponent under 100 points this season and they moved to 8-0 in those contests. Denver’s potential on the defensive end continues to grow and reveal itself with each passing game. On Friday, Boston shot 40.7 percent from the field and 7 of 27 from beyond the arc and Denver was able to end a lot of defensive possessions with a rebound.

"I think we're defending and competing at a high level," Will Barton III said. "(Our defensive chemistry) is really good right now. We're flying around, we're talking, we know what we want to do going into the game and we're executing our (defensive) gameplan."

Boston’s dynamic wing duo of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were held to a combined 12-of-31 shooting from the field, which forced Boston’s other guards and forwards to try and beat the Nuggets.

An edge on the boards played a key role

While the Celtics have many strengths on both ends of the floor, rebounding wasn’t one of them heading into Friday’s contest, and the Nuggets were able to exploit that. Boston ranks as one of the worst offensive-rebounding teams in the league, while they were around league-average in preventing offensive rebounds for opponents before facing the Nuggets.

The Nuggets thoroughly controlled the glass through the first three quarters of their comfortable victory and ultimately finished with a 48-40 rebounding advantage. While the offensive rebounds provided Denver with additional scoring opportunities, their defensive rebounds were crucial in limiting Boston’s offense and provided some opportunities to run in transition.

Denver is still in search of its offense

The Nuggets have gotten off to a strong 11-3 start this season mainly as a result of their defense, which has ranked in the top-10 for the majority of the year.

However, there are certainly still issues to iron out on the offensive end, as the Nuggets mustered 96 points against the Celtics. Now, it must be pointed out that Boston had the fourth-ranked defense coming into Friday’s matchup, but Denver shot just 25 percent from beyond the arc and committed 17 turnovers.

"We're 11-3 and still kind of finding our way," Malone said. "But to be 11-3 and have beaten some of the teams that we have beaten this season, it says a lot about our team and the potential that we have."

For now, the defense has been able to carry Denver to 11 wins in their first 14 games. The Nuggets owned the league’s 18th-ranked offense before they took on the Celtics, which will have to improve throughout the remainder of the regular season as they compete for a championship.

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