Facing a slow starting team on the second night of a back-to-back, the Boston Celtics seemed primed for a big first quarter. That was not the case tonight.
The Nuggets attacked the interior of the Celtic defense right away. They benefited from offensive rebounds and the absence of Al Horford’s rim protection. By the halfway point of the first, the Nuggets had doubled up the Celtics, 16-8.
Boston’s offense struggled to find a rhythm at the other end. They leaned on Isaiah Thomas heavily, but his 10 first-quarter points weren’t enough to counter the coming onslaught of Emmanuel Mudiay.
Mudiay has struggled shooting the ball this season, but he caught fire and outscored the entire Celtics team 24-23 in the quarter. Mudiay’s season high for points in a game this season was 21, and he managed to top that in a single quarter. Boston gave up an astounding 42 points in the first, the highest since 2004. Not exactly the start they were hoping for.
Boston wasn’t able put a dent into the lead going into th half either. There were a few encouraging signs early in the quarter. Gerald Green and Jordan Mickey showed some nice pick-and-roll chemistry. Isaiah continued an effective game offensively. Marcus Smart played well. But on the whole, this was another disastrous quarter for Boston. The defense had no answer for Denver. There was no rim protection, and Boston gave up too many easy points from fouls and turnovers.
Every time the Celtics tried to get back into the game, Denver answered. Zeller had a nice block on Mudiay at the rim, then he got yammed on by Gallinari the next possession. It was that kind of night. The Celtics entered the half down 25, to the scattered boos of a restless Garden crowd.
If there’s one constant of the Stevens era Celtics, it’s that they don’t quit. Boston opened the second half finally showing some aggressiveness on defense. They quickly forced two turnovers, prompting a Denver timeout. Boston continued to press and trimmed the lead down to 15. However, this would be as close as Boston got to pushing Denver. Gallinari buried back-to-back 3s, and the Celtic run was over. The margin for error is incredibly thin when trailing by 25. Little mistakes like missed layups and giving space to three-point shooters is enough to tank a comeback. The Nuggets survived the run and coasted through garbage time to finish out the game.
This team obviously misses Crowder, Horford, and Olynyk. But this performance was awful. The Nuggets are a decent team on the second night of a back-to-back. You can’t get smoked at home in this situation, injuries or not.