Nuggets Down Celtics, Clinch Playoff Berth

by Eric Spyropoulos

After going 3-0 on last week’s home stand, the Denver Nuggets continued the momentum by defeating the Boston Celtics 114-105 in TD Garden, officially clinching a playoff spot for the first time since 2013. After getting off to a cold start from beyond the arc early in the game, Denver finished the game with 14 3-pointers and shot 48.9 percent from the field.

"This is not an easy place to come in and get a win,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “That's a good basketball team over there with a lot of talent. It's great to clinch and know that we're in."

Defense was the story of the first quarter, as both teams struggled out of the gates. After falling behind 4-0 to start, Denver went on a 13-0 run to grab control of the game early. The ball was moving for the Nuggets, as they had four assists on their first five made baskets. Al Horford spearheaded an 18-11 run for the Celtics to close the quarter, cutting Denver’s lead down to just two at 24-22. The Nuggets shot 40 percent from the field in the corner, while the Celtics made just 36.4 percent of their shots in the frame. The two teams combined to shoot 5-21 from beyond the arc in the quarter.

The Celtics regained the lead early in the second quarter as they took advantage of some cold shooting from Denver’s bench unit. A 12-6 run for Boston gave the Celtics a four-point advantage after the first couple minutes of the quarter. However, the Nuggets turned the quarter around once the starters checked back into the game. Will Barton led Denver on a 14-4 run over the middle minutes of the quarter, giving Denver a 44-38 lead at the four-minute mark. Nikola Jokić was very efficient in the first half, scoring 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field while also grabbing ten rebounds. The Celtics would close the quarter on a 14-11 run, cutting Denver’s lead down to 55-52. The Nuggets regained control of the game despite their continued struggles from beyond the arc, finishing the half just 5-of-18 from three.

The Celtics regained the lead early in the third quarter, going on a 7-2 run over the first 90 seconds of the quarter, prompting an early timeout from Nuggets head coach Michael Malone. After Denver responded with a quick 5-0 run to take the lead, the Celtics went on an 11-4 run to earn a four-point lead midway through the quarter. The Nuggets struggled to take care of the ball early in the second half, committing four turnovers during Boston’s run. Seven turnovers from Denver in the quarter allowed Boston to take advantage and open up a five-point lead. A key 5-0 scoring run from Torrey Craig allowed Denver to tie the game up at 80 heading into the final quarter.

“Guys stepped up and made big plays,” Malone said. “Torrey Craig's energy, effort and productivity off the bench was really instrumental in the win tonight."

A quick 6-0 start to start the fourth quarter extended Denver’s overall scoring run to 11-0, allowing the Nuggets to open up an 86-80 lead early in the final frame. The two teams battled back-and-forth for the next several minutes of the quarter before the Nuggets opened up a nine-point lead with just over five minutes remaining. Jokić was the main catalyst of the run, as he knocked down two consecutive 3-pointers. With four minutes remaining, the Nuggets found themselves up ten after a Jokić block led to a 3-pointer from Gary Harris in transition. The two teams would battle to a near-draw down the stretch, allowing Denver to grab the road win. The Nuggets held the Celtics to just 25 points in the fourth quarter.

"We knew this was a big game coming in,” Craig said. “We knew it would be tough and that it would be a grind-it-out game, but we came out and got the W."

Nikola Jokić led the way for the Nuggets, scoring 21 points on 9-14 shooting from the field while also grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out seven assists. Barton (20 points), Harris (16), Craig (13), Millsap (12), Murray (11) and Monte Morris (11) were the other Nuggets in double figures.

The Celtics were led by Kyrie Irving, who scored 30 points on 10-23 shooting from the field. Al Horford (20 points), Marcus Morris Sr. (13) and Marcus Smart (10) were the other players in double figures for the Celtics.

The Nuggets continue the road trip on Thursday against the Washington Wizards. The game will tip-off at 5 p.m. MT.

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