The Boston Celtics entered Friday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets as both a brand new team and also an incomplete one. They were heavily involved in the NBA’s busy trade deadline, sending off Dennis Schröder, Josh Richardson and Romeo Langford, among others, to acquire Derrick White and old friend Daniel Theis. As the dust settles and deals are finalized, though, there was still basketball to be played, and the Celtics hosted the Nuggets missing Theis (inactive as his trade finalizes) and with three open roster spots.
Despite being short-handed, with off nights from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (36 points on just 12-of-36 shooting) and a red-hot first half from Denver, the Celtics were determined to keep their win streak alive, and they thoroughly out-dueled the Nuggets in the second half to accomplish exactly that. Leading the way were Marcus Smart (22 points, 7 assists, 5 steals) and Robert Williams (15 points, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks), overcoming a triple-double from Nikola Jokic (23 points, 16 rebounds, 11 assists) to record their seventh straight win.
This was the Celtics’ first game after their busy trade deadline, and while it wasn’t our first true glance at the new look of the team, it was the first game in green for their top acquisition: White. The 27-year-old checked into the game for the first time with just over four minutes remaining in the first quarter, and made an instant impact, streaking up court on a fast break and dishing to Brown for a transition bucket.
On the evening, White played 28 minutes and seemed to blend in well with what the Celtics wanted to do on both ends of the floor, despite this being his very first day with the team. He scored 15 points, snagged six rebounds, dished two assists (which underrepresents his contribution to Boston’s ball movement on the night) and even cashed in on a trio of three-points. Given the circumstances, it was a remarkably encouraging debut for the Celtics’ new guard.
White’s debut provided some excitement for the TD Garden crowd early, but it was Jokic who set the tone from the jump. The reigning MVP came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, recording seven points, four assists (including two crafty dimes to Gordon) and six rebounds in the early minutes. He was not without fault against the Celtics’ defense though, as he also coughed up five turnovers in the first quarter. White scored his first points as a Celtic just before the end of the quarter, and the Celtics entered the second trailing 32-30.
The second quarter began with two more quick buckets from White, who cashed in his second three and converted a quick layup to prompt a Denver timeout just 40 seconds into the frame. The Nuggets’ offense continued to cook, however, as they finished the half shooting 52% from the field (including three three-pointers from 31% shooter Facu Campazzo). The Celtics’ active defense served mainly to keep the game within reach, as the 14 turnovers they forced helped hold Denver’s halftime lead to nine, 60-51.
Derrick White coming out HOT pic.twitter.com/5ixKneBR8y— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 12, 2022
The second half began with another quick timeout, as the Nuggets answered a Celtics’ three with one of their own and prompting Ime Udoka to call time nearly a minute and a half into the third quarter. Another timeout followed not long after, as the Celtics attacked the paint and cut the Denver lead back down to a single possession. Not long after that, the Celtics were on top; Brown soared to the rim for an explosive dunk and put Boston ahead by two as part of a 16-5 run.
The Nuggets would rally in the subsequent minutes, but the two teams entered the final quarter with the game board functionally reset. Denver led the Celtics 79-76 through three quarters of play.
The two teams went practically shot-for-shot as the final quarter began, before Payton Pritchard hit a three-pointer at the end of the shot clock with just under nine minutes remaining to provide a spark. Smart followed that triple with one of his own a couple minutes later, and Robert Williams slammed home an alley-oop on the next possession to put the Celtics back ahead by one, 91-90.
It’s perhaps a bit trite to say that a regular season matchup had the feel of a playoff game, but the closing minutes of this game certainly came close. After several minutes of hard-fought competition, Boston edged their lead ahead to three points, only for Jokic to tie it back up with a crucial triple from the wing with just under four minutes to play.
Moments later, White would score his most impactful points of the evening, connecting on a layup off a feed from Brown to put Boston ahead 100-97. A couple possessions later, Smart got tied up with Campazzo off the ball and knocked him over after a physical exchange, prompting a video review. The play was ruled a defensive foul on Campazzo with no foul on Smart, and Smart proceeded to the line and hit both free throws to put the Celtics ahead by five. From there, the Nuggets were forced into the late-game-foul routine, and Boston made the requisite freebies to put the game on ice.
Next up, the Celtics (with what will hopefully be a more complete version of their roster) will host the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday afternoon at 2 PM EST on ABC.
For more postgame coverage of the Celtics’ hard-fought win over the Nuggets, tune into the the Garden Report Postgame Show LIVE on CLNS Media right after the game. Join A Sherrod Blakely, Bobby Manning, Josue Pavon, Jimmy Toscano and host John Zannis for a full breakdown.