The Celtics faced off against the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night at the TD Garden. The Celtics were playing the first game of a six-game homestand and were coming off a brief rest, whereas the Nuggets were playing their second game in two nights. This definitely showed, as the Nuggets struggled on defense and were unable to match the speed of the Boston Celtics. The Celtics built up a large lead in the first half, survived a third quarter surge from Denver, and won the game, 113-99.
The Celtics on Offense
The Celtics offense was clicking on all cylinders tonight, with balance being the key word. Five players scored in double figures, including 27 points from Paul Pierce and a triple-double from Rajon Rondo, whose 11 points complimented his 11 rebounds and 15 assists. The slowness of the Denver Nuggets defense allowed the Celtics to dominate in several other areas as well. They more than doubled the Nuggets in offensive rebounds (17-8, a rarity for the boys in green). They outscored Denver on the fast break, 19-16. And they dominated in the paint. Boston put up 58 points in the paint, as compared to Denver’s 28. Boston was able to consistently drive into the layup lanes. But where they would usually encounter resistance, forcing passes to the perimeter, they found none, just empty space. The results were numerous dunks, layups, offensive boards and put-backs. Denver could not keep Boston out of the paint at all. This also led to many free throws for Boston. While Denver went to the line more often (37 vs. 26), Boston was the far more accurate team, shooting over 80% from the free-throw line.
The Celtics on Defense
The Celtics were far better at hanging with the Nuggets than the reverse. Even when Boston would turn it over, they were fast enough to get back on defense. Through the whole game, Denver was only able to score four points off Boston turnovers, whereas Boston scored 28. With the exception of Carmelo Anthony (32 points), nobody on Denver had a strong shooting night. This was mostly due to the stinginess and the quickness of the Boston defense. Whereas Boston could cut easily to the basket, Denver never could. Anytime they would dribble inside there would be a green shirt or two ready to contest the shot. This led to five blocked shots and nine steals. While Denver was able to draw the foul most of the time, poor free-throw shooting nullified most of their drives, meaning that on most possessions they came away with one or zero points. That’s a quick way to lose to a team that you can’t stop in the paint. Even when Denver would kick out to the perimeter, Boston would just rotate its defense and contest the shot. This translated to just six made three-pointers for the Nuggets. Boston’s speed on defense made it impossible for Denver to sustain drives long enough to ever get back in the game, and they got no help on defense. All of this translated into a pretty dominating victory for Boston.
Starting on the Right Foot
This was an excellent way for the Celtics to start their homestand. They are playing much stronger at home now than they were mid-season. The bench (a solid 32 points tonight) is playing with more consistency as newer players find their place in the Celtics’ system. And the starters are starting to find their energy and rhythm again as their playing time is slightly shortened in preparation for the playoffs. The goal for the rest of the season will be consistent play. The Celtics want to move up in the standings so as to secure more of a home-court advantage, take on an easier team in the first round, and avoid facing Cleveland until the Eastern Conference Finals. Tonight they proved they can not only play with but also dominate playoff-caliber teams. The next challenge is to prove they can do it night-in and night-out.