The Celtics complete their 4 game road trip with a stop in the Mile High city to play the Denver Nuggets. The Celtics are 1-2 on their trip so far, losing to the Warriors and Lakers and beating the Clippers. A win here would salvage their trip with a 2-2 record. However, winning in Denver is always a tough task.
The Nuggets have won 10 of their last 13 games against the Celtics in Denver. However, they have lost 17 of the last 20 in Boston. The Nuggets swept the series 2-0 last season while the Celtics swept the series the two previous seasons. The Nuggets are 26-17 vs the Celtics all time in Denver, but only 8-36 all time in Boston.
The Celtics are 17-7 on the road and 13-5 vs Western Conference teams. The Nuggets are 19-6 at home and 10-7 vs Eastern Conference teams. Both teams are 5-5 in their last 10 games. The Celtics are still the top seed in the East in spite of losing 5 of their last 6 games. However, the Raptors have climbed to within 1 game of the Celtics with the Cavs still 5 back. The Nuggets are 8th in the West 1 game ahead of the Clippers.
The Celtics will once again be without Marcus Smart after he injured his hand hitting a picture frame at his hotel before the Clippers game. Guerschon Yabusele is dealing with a sprained ankle and is listed as out. Gordon Hayward (ankle) remains out. Terry Rozier missed the shoot around with a sprained ankle that he suffered at the end of the Warriors game and is 50/50 for tonight’s game according to Brad Stevens. Kadeem Allen has been called up from the Red Claws and participated in the shoot around.
For the Nuggets, Wilson Chandler is dealing with an illness and did not participate in the shoot around. After being listed as probable, he has been downgraded to questionable for tonight’s game. Paul Millsap (wrist) and Tyler Lydon (knee) are both listed as out. The starting lineups are the ones given on the game notes for each team and could change closer to game time.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Marcus Smart (hand) out
Probable Nuggets Starters
Paul Millsap (wrist) out
Tyler Lydon (knee) out
Wilson Chandler (illness) questionable
Two Way Players
Jaylen Brown vs Gary Harris
Harris is averaging 17.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He is also shooting 38.8% from beyond the arc. Harris is also 6th in the league averaging 1.93 steals per game. The last time these two met in December, Harris led the Nuggets with 36 points. It will be important to keep him from having another big game.
Al Horford vs Nikola Jokic
Jokic is playing very well for the Nuggets and will be tough to contain. He posted a triple double in his last game on Saturday with 11 points, 11 assists and 15 rebounds. Has recorded a 19 double-doubles this season and is tied for 2nd among NBA centers in assists per game. He is averaging 16.1 points, 10.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists this season. Both of these players missed the first meeting between these two teams this season.
Someone vs Jamal Murray
The Celtics will miss Marcus Smart’s defense once again in this game as Murray is averaging 16.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.8 assists off the bench for Denver. He tallied 28 points and 10 rebounds in the Celtics’ win in Boston earlier this season. He is the only player other than Stephen Curry to have a game with 38+ points, 5+ rebounds, and 6+ assists in under 34 minutes this season. With Smart out and Terry Rozier questionable, someone will need to up his defense and keep Murray from having a big game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is the key to every game. The Celtics still have the #1 defensive rating at 100.0 but at times they have let their defense slip need to be sure to make defense a priority and work hard on that side of the court in every game. The Nuggets are 19th with a defensive rating of 106.6 but since 12/8, Denver has had a defensive rating of 105.4 (9th). They held the Warriors to 81 points and so should not be taken for granted.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. They have to fight for loose balls, defend aggressively, be aggressive in driving to the basket, and just play harder than the Nuggets for the entire game. They have to be the team that wants it more. They can’t let the Nuggets outwork them as they did the Lakers in their first game on this trip.
Rebound - Both teams are good rebounding teams. The Nuggets have a slight edge with 45.2 rebounds per game to 44.4 rebounds per game for the Celtics. Rebounding takes effort and the Celtics have to work harder to grab rebounds to limit the Nuggets second chance points as the Nuggets are 3rd in the league with 14.2 second chance points per game. The Celtics can’t allow the Nuggets to outwork them on the boards.
Move the Ball - The Celtics play very well when they move the ball and find the open man. When the ball sticks and players try to do too much, take quick shots, and dribble too much, the Celtics struggle. It’s the difference between the game vs the Lakers and the game vs the Clippers. They have to move the ball and look for the best shot and not force shots and not take quick shots. The Nuggets average 17.1 points off turnovers so while they need to move the ball, they have to make careful passes and not allow the Nuggets to get steals and fast break points.
Mile High Denver - One of the factors that makes Denver a tough place to play is their high altitude. The air is a bit thinner there and teams coming in and not used to it may be at a distinct disadvantage to the home team, who are used to the thinner air there. Hopefully the Celtics got there a day early and got somewhat acclimated to the altitude.
Short Handed - Marcus Smart may take some bad shots and may not have the highest shooting average, but he brings toughness, defense and does a lot of the things that helps the team win. Marcus would have made a difference against the Warriors and they will miss him in this game. Now, Terry Rozier is also questionable with a sprained ankle. Kadeem Allen has been called up from Maine to help fill the gap. Celtics need the Next Man Up mentality and every player will need to step up to help fill in for the missing players.
Road Weary- The Celtics are at the end of a very tiring road trip and are coming off of a tough game vs the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. They have traveled thousands of miles and have played 3 tough games. Hopefully, they have enough in the tank to pull out a win in this game.