1. This was easily the most absurd game the Boston Celtics have played in a season full of absurdity. Boston fell behind early and struggled to find offense for much of the first half. They rallied in the second quarter and were only down six heading into the break.
The third quarter was a problem to start. With 2:17 to play in the third, Facundo Campazzo drained a three-pointer to give Denver a 79-65 lead. Over the final two minutes of the period, Boston ripped off a 9-0 run to head to the fourth down by just five points.
It got better from there for the Celtics.
The Nuggets wouldn’t make another basket (they had one free throw) until there was 7:08 left in the fourth quarter. That’s a nearly seven-minute stretch without hitting a shot. Before that hoop, Boston outscored Denver 20-1.
But wait! There’s more!
The Nuggets never re-found their rhythm. Nikola Jokic got so frustrated by Boston’s defense that he was pulled from the game less than two-and-a-half minutes later with his team trailing by 14 points.
Overall, the Celtics closed the game on a ridiculous 40-8 run. After that Campazzo jumper late in the third, Boston forced six turnovers (including four in a row at one point) and held Denver to just 3-of-24 shooting.
2. In an effort to be balanced, we’re going to talk some negatives first, before closing with all positives. Boston’s focus wasn’t great to start the game. This is really bad from Kemba Walker. Will Barton swings this ball, but Walker somehow still ends up behind him. As the shot goes up, Walker watches and makes no effort to block Barton out. Easy points for Denver:
Late in the first half, it happened again. Walker doesn’t get his body on Facundo Campazzo. End result? Easy dunk for Aaron Gordon:
It was far from all being on Walker though. In Jokic’s minutes in the first half and third quarter, the Celtics got caught ball-watching a lot. Jokic picked them apart as multiple players repeatedly back-cut Boston.
It got better, as witnessed above, but the defensive focus was really poor for a portion of the game.
3. How did the Celtics get the game turnaround? They dominated the Nuggets in non-Jokic minutes. Jokic generally sits late in the first and third quarters and that bridges into the second and fourth quarters, before he comes in to close each half.
When Jokic checked out with 2:25 to play in the first quarter, Denver was up 25-13. By the time he checked back in with 7:10 to play in the second quarter, the Nuggets lead was just four points.
In the second half, it was an even more drastic difference. Jokic checked out with 1:13 to play in the third quarter and his team was up 79-69. When he got back in, Denver was trailing 85-80. That was a 16-1 Boston run to turn a 10-point deficit into a five-point lead.
By that point, the wheels had come off for the Nuggets. Jokic played just a few more minutes before Michael Malone waved the white flag for his MVP candidate and sat him for the rest of the afternoon.
4. Boston got their lift in both halves from a somewhat unexpected place: the bench. Romeo Langford got things started with this runout for an and-1 in the first quarter. This is a really strong finish through contact from a much bigger player:
As Boston took control of the game late in the third quarter, Langford found himself matched up with JaMychal Green in the post. Langford does a nice job of moving his feet and holding his ground to draw the offensive foul:
5. The Celtics got good minutes from Tristan Thompson and Grant Williams too. Thompson showed up in the first half by getting physical with Nikola Jokic. Thompson banged with Jokic, forced him into some tough shots and generally made life tough on the All-Star center.
Grant Williams wasn’t quite as physical with Jokic, but annoyed the big man by getting into his body and getting underneath him a handful of times. And Williams hustle was big for Boston. Here’s an example of not watching a rebound, but going to get it:
6. In his 53-point explosion on Friday, Jayson Tatum worked inside quite a bit and got himself to the free throw line 16 times. He took eight more free throws against the Nuggets. Two came off and-1 opportunities, as Boston climbed back into the game in the second quarter.
This first one starts with a huge block from Robert Williams. Semi Ojeleye outlets the ball the Tatum. No hesitation from Tatum at all in transition. He sees no shot-blocker in front of him and attacks immediately for the hoop and the harm:
The next trip for Boston, Tatum works a big-big screen-and-roll with Tristan Thompson. He gets downhill against Paul Millsap and powers up and through the contact for the three-point play:
7. It wasn’t a banner day for Kemba Walker shooting the ball, as he finished 6-of-15, including 0-for-7 from behind the arc. Walker made some plays as a scorer as the game went along and he also stepped up again as a playmaker. This drive and kick to Jaylen Brown is the sort of basketball Brad Stevens wants to see all the time:
8. Jayson Tatum was so good as Boston took control and ultimately put the Nuggets away. Here’s four plays he made during that stretch to help the Celtics win. First, the pure midrange jumper:
When Tatum scored 53, there were some Larry Bird comparisons made, because of how early in their respective career they got to that marker. Here’s a Bird-like play from Tatum, as he pulls up, fakes the pass and buries the open jumper:
Speaking of Bird-like plays, how many times did The Legend sneak in for a steal like this to get Boston an easy bucket?
And Tatum finished his night the way he got going: by aggressively driving to the basket:
Those four clips above were part of a stretch where Tatum scored or assisted on 16-of-18 points as the Boston buried Denver. It was a dominating stretch for the Celtics young star.
9. Not be forgotten, Jaylen Brown had a nice afternoon, as he somewhat quietly scored 20 points. Well, quietly until he put the capper on the game with this loud finish:
10. After the Minnesota win, this space wrote: “It’s imperative that the Celtics go at least 1-2 on the trip. That’ll get them back to Boston at .500. If they can go 2-1, that’s even better. 3-0 would be an absolute dream.”
Even the most rabid homer wouldn’t have picked this game to be the one the Celtics would win. Especially not with how the game was being played late into the third quarter. Now, a 2-1, or even 3-0, trip is a realistic possibility.
Should you believe that? No one will blame you if you want to take a “believe it when I see it” stance. That’s fair given how the guys in green have played this season.
But Boston seemed to find something with physical defense in the Knicks game. The Timberwolves game became a complete mess, especially late. But the Celtics showed resolve to get the win anyway. This game turned when Boston amped up their defense and got physical.
For the second time in three games, both against good teams, the Celtics looked like the Celtics again. Maybe, just maybe, they found themselves at exactly the right time.